The writer of this piece completed a postgraduate course as an international student three years ago. He now works for a major British company doing a highly skilled job. He has asked us not to use his name.
Despite popular perceptions, getting a visa to stay in the UK after completing your studies is incredibly hard, and keeps getting harder each year. After the latest reform to immigration law by the coalition, students can no longer get a post-study work visa after completing their course – a category of visa that was meant to attract the brightest and most talented students.
This means that any non-EEA student who wants to stay in the UK must have a permanent job with a company that has registered itself with the government to be a sponsor under the Tier 2 category of visa. This creates two problems: 1) A company may be willing to offer you a job but isn’t registered with the government, so cannot sponsor you for a visa. The registration process isn’t quick or free of red tape either, so for students who usually only have a few months to find a job this effectively means you can’t get a visa. 2) Any freelancers are automatically barred from getting a visa. The rationale behind this was supposedly stopping people from going onto the dole after failing to find enough work, but non-EU migrants are, as a rule, not allowed to claim benefits so barring freelancers is asinine – if they can’t find enough work to pay for their food and shelter, they will leave the country themselves.
Nor does the ordeal end when you are lucky enough to get a job that is willing to sponsor you. Under the new regime, a maximum of 20,700 skilled workers can apply for Tier 2 visas (there are exceptions for sportspersons and religious ministers). This cap does not apply to people earning an annual salary of £150,000 or more, but clearly there aren’t many students who would get jobs paying that well straight out of university. So even if you have a job you have to hope the cap for this year hasn’t been filled, or you could be denied a visa despite meeting all the requirements. As a foreign student who pays significantly higher fees that British students do, it’s also a slap in the face to be told that you can buy your way into the country if you are a high earner, but you aren’t welcome if you’re not.
Some companies openly refuse to sponsor non-EEA employees for visas, but for the rest it can be nerve-wracking to go to a potential employer and have to ask for a visa before you can accept any job. Job interviews are stressful enough without having to worry about whether you will be instantly overlooked – no matter how qualified you are – because of the country you happened to be born in. I can vividly remember my hand shaking and my voice cracking as I brought the subject up at a few job interviews, because I just knew I was stacking the odds against myself. And that’s before we even get into a discussion about how you are completely at the mercy of your employer if they do sponsor you for a visa, because you lose the visa when you lose the job.
No one doubts that there are people abusing the system, but somehow it always seems to be those who follow the rules and play everything by the book who pay the price.