Americans who pursue bachelors degrees or postgraduate degrees (masters or Ph.D. level) in England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland now have the option to stay on in the U.K. for up to two years under a “post-study work visa.” Once a student has diploma in hand, he or she may submit an application for a “bridge” visa to allow the recent grad to seek employment. Recognizing that finding employment may not be instantaneous, the new visa category does not require that the applicant already have a job or an employer sponsor.
The program is particularly advantageous for younger people who might not be able to qualify as “highly skilled” workers or “skilled” workers with a firm offer from an employer ready to sponsor a work visa. The expectation is that during the two year term of the visa the graduate would find permanent employment and convert to another type of work visa. The post-study work visa is not just for Americans, of course, but for most students who come from outside the U.K., European Union Area, and Switzerland.
Full details about the program and the application process are available here on the website of the UK Border Agency, which was the primary source of information for this article.
What are the key eligibility factors for the post-study work visa?
The graduate must have been awarded the U.K. degree within the 12 months prior to application for the visa.
The graduate must demonstrate that he or she has adequate “maintenance” funds in a bank account in Britain or elsewhere.
NOTE: Adequate funds are defined as at least 800 GBPs (about $1240 US) if applying while still in the U.K. and at least 2800 GBPs ($4340 US) if applying after returning to the U.S. These sums of money must have been in your account(s) for at least three consecutive months immediately prior to submitting your visa application.
The graduate must have been in the U.K. legally under an appropriate student visa while completing the degree program.
The graduate must speak English (which is assumed if the U.K degree program was taught in English).
Is the post-study work visa applicant allowed to bring a spouse, partner, or children to the U.K.?
Yes, spouses, partners (including same sex partners), and children under 18 may stay in the U.K. or come to the U.K. based on the eligibility of the graduate or “main applicant” for the post-study visa. Additional application fees apply for dependents. An application must be submitted for each dependent and it is best if all applications are submitted together. The dependent application must include evidence that there are sufficient funds to support each dependent. At present, the required amount of maintenance funds per dependent is either 533 GBPs (about $830 USD) or 1600 GBPs (about $2485 US), depending on the individual circumstances.
What fees are charged for this visa?
The fee depends on whether you are applying while still in the U.K. (550 GBPs if applying by mail, 800 GBPs in person) or from outside the U.K. (315 GBPs). At the current exchange rate, the fees range from about $490 US to $1240 US. As of October 1, 2010, the 315 GBP fee for applicants applying from outside the U.K will increase to 344 GBPs (about $530) as part of an adjustment to keep pace with processing costs.
The premium fee of 800 GBPs (about $1240 US) is charged if an applicant already in the U.K. applies for the visa in person at a Public Enquiry Office. Such offices are located in Croydon (outside London), Sheffield, Liverpool, Birmingham, Glasgow, Belfast, and Cardiff. An advance appointment is necessary and the process may well take several hours. The advantage of the in-person approach is that you probably will not have to surrender your passport (which is necessary when applying by mail) and in most cases your application is approved and visa issued on the spot. Applications for complex cases must be submitted by mail.
When is the best time to apply?
You may apply as soon as your degree from a U.K. institution has been awarded. A student visa generally extends for four months after the course of study ends. Therefore, it is possible to apply for your post-study study work visa and have it approved prior to the expiration of your student visa. The British border agency website recommends that you apply at least a month prior to the expiration of your student visa and sooner if possible.
What if I stay in the U.K. on a post-study work visa but never find appropriate employment?
Being approved for the visa in no way guarantees that you will find work well-suited for your skills, education, and interests. The British economy has been buffeted by the same forces that have made jobs scarce in the U.S. However, your chances of being hired for a position in the U.K. are much greater if you are able to do the job search while in the country and not remotely from overseas. This is what makes the post-study visa very worthwhile. In a worst case scenario, if you became destitute in Britain, you would not be eligible for public assistance.
May I apply for the post-study work visa even if I have been out of the U.K. for several months since my U.K. degree was awarded? May I apply even if my student visa has expired and I returned home?
Yes, there are provisions for applying for the post-study work visa from the U.S. (or other non-EU country) as long as you apply within 12 months of the date your degree was awarded. If you are successful in obtaining the visa, you will then be eligible to return to the U.K. to seek work.
Significance of the Post-Study Work Visa
The new post-study work visa replaces, expands, and makes permanent several similar programs that were in effect previously, including the Fresh Talent: Working in Scotland Scheme and the International Graduates Scheme. It is part of the “points-based system” introduced in 2008. Specifically, it is part of Tier 1, which encompasses highly skilled workers, investors, entrepreneurs, and recent graduates.
According to the Border Agency website, the post-study work visa has two main purposes, from the standpoint of the U.K.:
“The Tier 1 (Post-study work) category allows the UK to retain the most able international graduates who have studied here. It also enhances the UK’s overall offer to international students.”
While Scotland actively courts recently graduates to stay and work, in part to replace the aging and otherwise depleted native population, England is more cautious about immigrants of all kinds. One consideration that applies in all parts of Britain and Northern Ireland is that non-EU students, including Americans, pay much higher tuition and fees charges than EU students. Further, many scholarships (also called studentships or bursaries) are limited to U.K. or EU citizens. Thus the international students contribute significantly to the financial stability of U.K. universities. And yet British universities can be affordable options for American students, as described in American Students can Afford Graduate Study at Top U.K. Universities.
If American students know that they can not only receive an affordable high quality education, but also be permitted to live and work in Britain after graduation, they will be more likely to cross the pond for undergraduate and postgraduate study.
To learn more about opportunities for Americans to attend British universities, explore the website of the British Council in the U.S. which contains a wealth of data and tips for Americans who aspire to study in the U.K.
Website of the U.K. Border Agency