Laura Zuluaga-Cardona, a Colombian, knew it would be difficult to get a work visa in the UK after her MBA at University of Exeter Business School between 2013-14. “The employer needs to demonstrate that there isn’t anybody in the UK or Europe who could do the job before being able to offer it to someone from Latin America,” she explains.
Schools have warned that the UK’s tough immigration curbs have weakened the attraction of studying in the UK, when its business schools face worries over Brexit and growing competition from overseas schools.
Traditionally, MBA graduates from outside the EU were allowed to stay and work in the UK for two years after graduation – until 2012, when the government withdrew this privilege.
However, the post-study work visa is being reintroduced, which will once again establish a new route for overseas students to start their careers in the UK. “This is a great opportunity for international students to gain work experience, learn more about the culture of work in the UK and demonstrate the value they can add to the economy,” says Zuluaga-Cardona.
Will Dawes, research and insight manager at the Association of MBAs in London, says the new looser visa rules are likely to increase applications to UK business schools. “Clearly, immigration policies which boost opportunities for high-caliber international students to work are likely to make the UK even more attractive,” he says.
In the wake of the Brexit referendum, the plummeting pound has also helped to attract overseas students, as it has lowered the relative cost of courses.
This was a factor in UK schools increasing their applications overall in 2018, bucking a global downturn. Figures from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the entrance exam administrator, show that 59 percent of UK schools reported growth across all graduate degrees.
Applications from overseas students were up at three in four schools, suggesting that the previous hostile immigration regime and Brexit uncertainties failed to dampen student demand.
In separate research among overseas students coming to the UK to study, 54 percent said Brexit had no impact on their decision, up from 46 percent in a similar survey after the referendum in 2016.
Like many overseas candidates, Riya Katyal came to the UK from India for an MBA to work after graduation. After all, the UK economy is creating more jobs and is sharply increasing pay levels.
She says: “Despite a lot of economic uncertainty around the possibility of Brexit, it didn’t majorly affect my decision. Macroeconomic events take significant time to have any visible repercussions.”
Katyal graduated from the one-year MBA at Imperial College Business School in 2019 and stayed in the UK to work for Amazon in London as an operations manager.
To secure a UK job, she says students must be proactive in their job search from the start of the MBA.
“Practice time management skills and organize yourself,” she says, and take “sufficient time to strike the right balance between the MBA and a job search.”
“The key is to value and leverage your network, establishing long-lasting relationships,” she adds.
Katyal missed the reintroduction of the post-study work visa, but says it brings a much needed relief to overseas students.
“It definitely improves the attractiveness of the country as a study destination,” she says. “It buys students more time to find jobs, giving them more security and confidence before making such a big investment decision [to do an MBA].”
Zuluaga-Cardona, the Exeter graduate, now works for the UK’s University of Bristol as a program manager for a digital health initiative. She says overseas students should focus on their strengths and unique selling point.
“There is something about you and the journey you haven been through that is completely unique — find where that can add value to the business,” she says.
Visa issues are less of a concern for students who are from the EU, which guarantees freedom of movement. This was why Alexis Picot, a Frenchman, came to the London campus of ESCP Business School for an MBA between 2018-19.
He now works in sales for telecoms company Orange in London. He says overseas students should show prospective employers that they anticipate potential visa issues. “You should know more than the hiring manager about this,” Picot says.
While EU students will have an easier time finding jobs in the UK, Dawes at AMBA notes that because of ongoing Brexit negotiations, the immigration status of EU nationals may change in the near future.
“This could negatively impact on the application demand for UK institutions,” he says.
“Due to ongoing uncertainty over the date and terms by which the UK will leave the EU, we still do not know how Brexit will unfold and what impact it will have on students’ job prospects.”