Get a job or get out: the tough reality for international students

Visa controls make life difficult for international students who want to stay in the UK after graduation.
International students account for almost a fifth (18%) of those in higher education, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa). However, unlike their British and EU-national peers, non-EU students have only four months after the end of their course to find a job, or they face deportation.
Most non-EU graduates go home after their studies, but of those who want to work in the UK, many apply for a Tier 2 visa. To be eligible for a Tier 2 visa:
You must have been offered a job at a particular skills level by an employer with a Tier 2 visa sponsor licence
Your job must pay a minimum of £20,800 (though this can depend on the job)
You must have £945 in savings, unless your sponsor is fully approved (A-rated)
In 2014, only 5,639 students were granted leave to stay in the UK under a Tier 2 visa, according to the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA).
It’s difficult enough for students and recent graduates to find employment at the moment, but with a four-month time limit it can seem like an impossible feat.
With this in mind, I asked a range of university careers advisers how international students on the job hunt can boost their chances of finding employment.
Top tips for international students applying for UK jobs:
  • Apply for jobs early. Many companies have long recruitment processes, so apply for jobs early on in your final year. Use your careers service to help you with your CV and personalise your application. If you get a job you will also need to apply for your working visa before your student visa expires.
  • Use your internationalisation to your advantage. Think about what sets you apart as an international graduate, says Ellen O’Brien, international careers adviser at the University of Birmingham. “You may have language or enhanced numeracy skills that home students don’t have.”
  • Check if an employer is registered to sponsor students. “If applying for a Tier 2 visa, you can check if an employer is on the Home Office list of registered UK employer sponsors,” says Justin Richardson, careers adviser at the University of Liverpool. “You should also know the salary requirements and conditions of Tier 2, while other visa options such as Tier 5 could be considered. However, always check the latest visa information with your university international support team.”
  • Be flexible and resilient when rejected. You may want to consider other career paths. “You might not get the job of your dreams, but if you can get anything it’s a step on the ladder,” says O’Brien.
  • Network your way into a job. Use your university careers service, and go to international student-focused careers fairs and introduce yourself. “Use alumni networks to contact past graduates from your country who are now working in the UK,” says David Gee, global employability manager at the University of the West of England.
  • Have a backup plan if you can’t stay in the UK. If your struggling to find a job in the UK, it’s good to consider backup options at home. Sites like GradLink UKspecialise in linking international students who have studied in the UK with employers in their home country.
  • I spoke to four recent international graduates who have had varying levels of success when searching for work. How does it feel to have just four months to secure a job?
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