The UK immigration process has changed. This is what you need to know as an overseas student

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International students have long been welcome on investment banks’ graduate schemes, but recent UK immigration law amendments have meant that the paperwork burden has become decidedly heavier. Has this made them more reluctant to take on graduates from outside the EU, and how can students make sure they secure an offer?

It used to be simple; students in the UK had the post-study work visa option, which allowed graduates to remain here for two years after the degree ended while they looked for work. In April this year, this route was officially closed, along with the previous option of a ‘tier one’ highly-skilled visa where a candidate took responsibility for their own sponsorship: as long as you stayed about 75 points (assessed on age, earning potential and English language skills) you could extend this visa and, after five years, apply for permanent residency.

The new stumbling blocks for students outside of the EU

Now, the post-study visa has been abolished and you can’t stay in the UK once your university course has finished unless you find someone to hire you. Even then, the employer has to be licensed by the UK Border Agency, which often means that only larger companies are willing to undertake the administrative headache this requires.

Assuming that you’re a non-EU student and you find a bank that likes the look of you, it needs to obtain a Certificated of Sponsorship. This is the next problem: those certificates are closely guarded by the UK Border Agency. They are only issued to companies in monthly quotas of 1,500. And, in order for the bank to get one, it has to prove that the person it wants to hire passes the ‘Resident Labour Market Test’. To pass this, they’ll need to provide evidence that no UK resident could do the job.

So, what does this mean if you’re an overseas student trying to get a financial services job in the UK?

Firstly, it will help if you speak a rare foreign language: “Language skills, particularly Mandarin or Japanese, those students who have completed a Masters degree or who have some business experience – even if that’s just a relevant internship – can be used as justification for investment banks taking on international students rather than a British graduate,” says Caron Pope, partner in the immigration practice at law firm Fragomen, which deals with financial services companies.

Secondly, you will need to be exceptional: “The bank will make it easy for the international student if they want to, but that student has to be exceptional. It’s become much harder for students who would have normally made the cut to even make it on the shortlist,” says one a careers advisor in one university.

The good news

Not everyone has to face this system, and there’s an important loophole.

Most international students studying at a UK university are here under the Tier 4 adult student visa. Once you finish your degree there’s a very limited window for gaining employment – essentially four months until the end of October before you’re required to leave the country.

The reality is that most students applying for a job at an investment bank should know whether they’re successful before they finish their studies. Assuming you hit your degree target, and can prove that you’ve graduated, there’s also a loophole that makes it easier for a potential employer to take you on.

This loophole is as follows: If you’re on a Tier 4 visa, you can convert to a Tier Two visa without going through the Resident Labour Market Test – banks won’t have to prove you’re the only person that can do the job.

“Tier 4 visas run out in 31 October on the year of graduation,” says Pope. “If a student graduates, can prove their degree certification and an employer wants to take them on as a Tier 2 migrant, they can do so without going through the justification exercise. This is something more employers and students are waking up to.”

The one stumbling block is if investment banks’ initial training programme - say a two-week initiation in the New York office - starts before September. This rarely gives students enough time to get the paperwork in place, suggests Pope.

While investment banks graduate recruiters insist that they’re “blind to nationality” and consider each application on its merit, for the time being the toxic combination of increased competition, fewer places and stricter immigration laws remain frustrating to international students.

Further information:

Info on the (very hard to attain) Tier One Exceptional Talent visa

Details on Tier Two Visas

Further information on the Tier 4 student visa

General immigration advice

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