There’s a wide variety of reasons why people would want to go abroad to study – to develop a stronger command of the English language, attend a potentially better quality course (and a correspondingly better degree) and the chance to make international contacts during your time at university that may be of use later down the line in your career. The main reason why many people choose to study abroad, however, is to open up job opportunities in some of the most prosperous countries in the world. Some destinations enjoy a better quality of life, and if you’re not lucky enough to be born in such a place, then one of the ways to relocate is through a successful career. It’s not rocket science – though that would certainly be one degree that would help.
This article is designed to help anyone hoping to get a job when they’ve finished their degree in one of the ‘big four’ countries – Canada, the UK, the USA, and Australia. Each have their own rules as far as foreign graduates being able to work are concerned, and have varying degrees of strictness. We’ll go over the rules for each in detail – have a read and see what you can find out. Remember, though – for all of these you are expected to study for a graduate degree from a university in one of these countries first; if you don’t, then this article won’t be much help to you.
Canada operates the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program, offering foreign post-secondary graduates an opportunity for work experience, and in the long term (if you do well under the PGWPP) a possibility for permanent immigration. The PGWPP has a list of requirements that we outline here:
You must have studied full time in Canada and completed your studies under a program that lasts for a minimum of eight months.
You must have graduated from a public or private post-secondary institution. If you’re coming from a private institution it must run under the same rules and regulations as a public institution. There are two alternatives (below).
In Quebec, you must graduate from an institution that awards a diplôme d’études professionnelles (DEP) or an attestation de specialisation professionnelle (ASP).
You may have come from a Canadian private institution that is licensed under provincial law to give degrees. The degree must be of national (not provincial) standard.
You must apply for a work permit within 90 days of receiving written proof of graduation.
You must have a valid study permit when applying for a work permit.
All of these conditions should be easily met as long as you followed the correct procedures when you applied to study in the first place – remember, if there’s something even a little wrong with your paperwork for whatever reason, you’ll have a lot of difficulty applying for a post-graduation work permit. The trick is to get organised as soon as you graduate, and make sure everything is in place for you to start working as soon as possible. It can be very tempting to relax and take a bit of a holiday when you graduate (fair enough), but the 90-day window here is smaller than it looks, and you should make sure to have all of your paperwork in order and be ready to apply as soon as you’ve received your graduation letter.
The length of the work permit depends entirely on the length of your time of study in Canada – generally, you cannot hold the PGWP for longer than the amount of time you were studying. However, if you’ve studied for two years or more, you may be eligible for the three-year work permit. This is the longest PGWP available to anyone.
There are a few conditions that could make you ineligible for the PGWPP – most of them relate to previous scholarships and programs. If you didn’t receive a scholarship or participate in any kind of special program, then it’s likely you are eligible (if you meet the other requirements). You cannot get a PGWP more than once, ever.
Permanent residence in Canada under the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) is also possible for foreign graduates, and this has more or less the same rules and regulations as the PGWPP. You can see if you’re eligible here.
If you haven’t already completed a degree in Canada, you can search for available courses here.
The UK operates a variety of different schemes (with a corresponding mountain of paperwork) depending on what type of qualification you’re graduating with. The reasoning behind their different schemes is to insure that ‘high-value graduates’ are kept in the country, whilst making it more difficult for graduates with less employable degrees. The details of each scheme – each given a certain ‘tier’ change regularly, and applying to work full-time in the UK can be a very complicated business. We suggest that you consult your university, who should know the different options available to you specifically. This section is simply an outline of what you may be eligible for – talk to your university to make sure.
What’s known as Tier 2 under the UK system is generally the most common gateway for most foreign graduates, and is pretty representative of the system as a whole. This includes a transfer opportunity (if you worked as part of an international company and are now being moved to a UK branch), but more importantly also includes a graduate scheme.
To be part of the Tier 2 system, you must fit the following criteria:
Your employer must have the relevant licence.
There is a minimum wage of £20,300 per year, though this can be higher (this is to prevent migrants taking low skill-set jobs from UK citizens).
The job must have been previously advertised to UK citizens before it can be given to a foreign graduate. You don’t need to be too concerned by this – it’s the employer’s prerogative to advertise the job, not yours.
Generally, the job must require a skill set – in practical terms, the job must not be too easy. This is graded using a point system.
You must prove that you can speak, read and write English to a sufficient level. This may have already been done if you were found eligible to join a UK degree course.
For a lot of these points, you’ll find that it’s more the employer’s prerogative to meet the requirements, not yours. All you need to do is apply for the job and trust that the employer has the patience to do their paperwork properly and make sure that you’re allowed to be employed in a certain position.
If you’re hoping to take your career in an entrepreneurial direction, you may be classed as a Tier 1 (high-value graduate) worker. This is dependent on your business acumen and skill set, but sometimes if you can receive backing from your university or college, or from a UK business, you will be eligible for the Tier 1 programme. This is closely tied to the Sirius Programme, which encourages small teams and businesses to be set up by final year students, ready for them when they graduate. The Sirius Programme offers funding, advice and – most importantly in this case – help with immigration applications.
The best thing to do when considering the UK as an option for post-graduate work is to consult your university about the best option for you. The system is complicated and is beyond the scope of this article, but there will be staff at your university willing and well-equipped to help you find the right application process. For more information on the whole process, visit the UK government’s website here.
If you haven’t already completed a degree in Canada, you can search for available courses here.
The US has very strict regulations on who can and cannot enter the country under any circumstances, and as a graduate it’s no different. The first step on a long list of steps to start your career proper in the US is to obtain an Optional Practical Training licence (OPT). This is granted to you after graduation by a representative of the US government – the Designated School Official, or DSO – who should have an office on campus.
The OPT allows any postgraduate to work in the US as a paid intern at a relevant company. If you have a language degree, it must be related to the position you’re hoping to be working in – you can’t just stroll into any job. The OPT lasts for one year, and has to be completed by 24 months after graduation. This means you could – technically – spend a year looking for the right company to work for under the OPT, though we don’t suggest this method. If you’re working for a Master’s degree via a Bachelor’s, you are eligible to take the OPT twice; once after each qualification.
The OPT can be extended by 17 months (for a total of 29 months) for certain STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) students. This applies to the following degrees with CIP codes:
Actuarial science, code: 52.1304
Computer sciences, codes: 11.xxxx
Engineering subjects, codes: 14.xxxx and 15.xxxx
Biological subjects, codes: 26.xxxx
Mathematical and Statistical subjects, codes: 27.xxxx
Military technology, codes: 29.xxxx
Physical sciences, codes: 40.xxxx and 41.xxxx
Medical sciences, code: 51.1401
In order to extend the OPT with a STEM subject, the holder must already be working under the 12 month OPT system, and must be recommended by the university. Additionally, a STEM extension can only happen once, even if you gain two separate degrees.
After obtaining employment, your visa type should change from an F-1 to an H1b, which will allow your employer to apply for a permanent residency card on your behalf. However, your employer is far from obligated to do this, and often you will have to spend a few years gaining experience and refreshing your temporary work visa until you’ve gained enough trust for your employer to ask for a green card. It can be a long process, but after a few years the opportunity will be there to seek permanent residence in the ‘Land of Opportunity’. For more information, you should talk to your immigration attorney, or try to consult someone at your university.
If you haven’t already completed a degree in the USA, you can search for available courses here.
The Australian paperwork system is arguably even more complicated than the ones in the UK and the USA, with 6 separate visas being the most popular – although not the only – choice for foreign graduates. Generally, the best way to start earning the right to permanent residence in Australia is to apply for a work experience permit and, frankly, hope for the best – much like the American system. The most common way to do this is via the 485 – the Skilled Graduate Temporary Visa. This allows a graduate to stay and work in Australia for 18 months, but only if their previous study period lasted for longer than 2 years.
The five other popular options for foreign graduates in Australia are listed below:
402 – Training and Research Visa. This effectively allows employment for up to two years straight after university, but only if an employer sponsors the holder.
487 – Regional Sponsored Visa. This will allow the holder to live and work in a region of the country for up to three years. After living for two years and working full-time for at least one, the holder is eligible to apply for permanent residence.
887 – Skilled Regional Residence Visa. This is the next step after the 487 VISA is completed – it grants permanent residency and work permits. If you’ve lived in Australia for two years and have worked full time for at least one.
885 – Skilled Independent Residence Visa. This grants work and living permits as a permanent resident to the country, but only if you have a degree which qualifies you as ‘skilled’. You may not have any outstanding debts to the Australian government to obtain this visa.
886 – Skilled Sponsor Resident Visa. Much the same as the 885; this grants permanent residence and work permits, but with the condition that you’re sponsored by your employer.
For more information on all of these opportunities, you should contact your university for advice on the right direction for what you want to do; and you should check the Australian government’s webpage on the subject.
If you haven’t already completed a degree in Australia, you can search for available courses here.
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