Some international Masters students in Western Europe, the US, Canada, and Australia are eager to stay on to work in the countries of their choice after graduating. To be able to do that, the students need to take the post-study work visa route. Here is what they should do to obtain the coveted work permit.
If you want to work in the United States after finishing your Masters studies, first you need to make sure you are aware of the visa requirements and restrictions. US immigration laws are complex and securing a post-study work permit as an international student is no mean feat.
Most international students in the US are studying on an F-1 visa, which covers secondary and high school programmes as well as all courses of study at colleges and universities. It has to be pointed out that F-1 students are allowed to remain in the US for only 60 days after the completion of their studies (the so-called grace period), therefore they must act fast. There are more than 60 different types of visa in the USA, but F-1 visa holders can basically choose between only two main types of work permits.
1. F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)
F-1 visa holders can apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) at the end of their studies to stay in the country for up to a year applying the knowledge they have acquired during their studies. They can extend their OPT by another 17 months, but to do that they must have a degree from the government's designated list of STEM subjects. The extension is designed to help those with skills and qualifications that relate to an occupation considered in demand in the American labour market, one that will secure a permanent job offer and sponsorship from a US employer.
To secure your stay in the US under the OPT visa programme, you must apply early. You may apply as early as 90 days before your programme end date but no later than 60 days after your programme end date. You are also required to work in your field of study. Those with STEM degrees can apply for the 17-month extension at any time during the last three months of their OPT.
2. H1-B for specialised fields
H1-B visa is the most common work visa in the US, but it is quite difficult to obtain, not least because it requires the employer, not the applicant, to deal with the paperwork. In addition, you must find work in your field of study and have a job offer before you can think of a visa.
This type of permit is initially granted for three years, but can be extended to six years. The duration of the H1-B visa is based on the length of your job contract. The number of H1-B visas that can be granted a year is capped at 85,000, although some employees at non-profit, higher education, and government research facilities are exempt from the limit.
Canada is famous for its liberal employment rules for foreign graduates. To work in Canada after you graduate, you must apply for a post-graduation work permit (PGWP). To be able to apply, you must have continuously studied full-time in the country in a study programme lasting at least eight months. If you studied for more than eight months but not continuously (for example, you took a semester off), you are not eligible for PGWP. You also have to apply within 90 days of when it was confirmed that you completed your programme.
How long the post-graduation work permit is valid for depends on the length of your study programme. If your programme was more than eight months but less than two years, your PGWP may be valid for up to the same length as your study programme. For example, if you studied for nine months, a work permit may be issued for up to nine months. If your programme lasted two years or more, you may be granted a PGWP for three years.
International graduates in Australia willing to stay and work in the country can follow one of two streams under the temporary Graduate visa (subclass 485): the Graduate Work stream and the Post-Study Work stream.
1. Graduate Work Stream Visa
The Graduate Work stream is for international students who graduate with skills and qualifications considered in demand in the Australian labour market, as indicated in the list of eligible skilled occupations. Australia has a shortage of skilled workers such as engineers, medics, and scientists. A visa in this stream is generally granted for 18 months.
This visa allows you to work in Australia for 18 months if you have graduated from an Australian education institution within the past six months. This type of visa can be granted even to holders of qualifications below that of a Bachelor’s degree.
2. Post-Study Work Stream Visa
Under this stream, successful applicants are granted a visa with a period of two, three or four years’ duration, depending on the highest educational qualification they have obtained. For example, Bachelor’s degree holders can stay for two years, while if you have a Masters degree you can stay for two or three years. If you have a doctorate you can stay for four years.
Unlike the Graduate Work Stream Visa, the Post-Study Work stream does not allow those with a qualification below that of a Bachelor’s degree to apply. Also, you are not eligible for this visa if you applied for your first ever student visa before 5 November 2011, the day Australia introduced the so-called Genuine Temporary Entrant, designed to bar non-genuine students from applying for student visas with the sole goal of gaining permanent residency in the country.
New laws have made it tougher for international, non-EU students to switch their study visas to work-related ones. The UK has abolished the post-study work visa in 2012 that allowed non-EU students to stay in the UK and work for up to two years after graduation. Now, non-EU students are allowed to stay only four months after the completion of their programme.
Those who want to work in the UK still can apply for a Tier 2 visa. To be eligible for a Tier 2 visa you will need to find a job that pays at least GBP 20,800 a year. For some types of work, this figure is even higher, which for a first job is pretty difficult, especially outside London. In addition, the employer must be able to demonstrate that they had advertised the job but could not find a suitable UK applicant.
What about EU students? At the moment, they have the right to work in the UK, but with Brexit looming, these rules are likely to change.
Those who want to work in Germany after completing their studies must know that once their programme is over, their residence permit expires automatically, even if it was supposed to run for longer originally. Therefore, you need to apply for a new permit which will allow you to stay in Germany for another 18 months, during which time you can look for a job that corresponds to your education. In order to receive the extension you need to provide proof that you can support yourself financially during this period. If the job search is successful, you can apply for a residence permit for the purpose of employment.
When you get a job offer in your chosen field of study, you can also apply for an EU Blue Card, which allows highly educated skilled workers to stay and work in Germany and the EU. To be granted one, however, you must be offered a job that pays at least EUR 50,800 a year.
Spain is one of those countries where it is very difficult for non-EU students to obtain a work permit after graduation. There is no visa specifically designated for foreign graduates of Spanish universities. Before getting a work permit, you need to get a job first. Your employer then has to authorise your hiring by proving that the job has been advertised but there were no suitable candidates from Spain or the EU. After you obtain the work and residence permit with the help of your employer, you then can apply for a work visa. In Spain, unlike in many other EU countries, a permit and a visa are not the same thing.
As you see, the post-study work visa road can be a bumpy one, however, it is not impossible to obtain a work permit if you have the right qualifications and skills. Therefore, it is essential to choose your study location carefully and plan accordingly.