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Why International MBAs May Have A Tough Time Finding Jobs In UK

New visa laws have made it harder for international MBAs to land jobs in the UK, say leading business schools. But MBA recruiters and schools are adapting, reports Seb Murray.

Fri Feb 28 2014

International MBA students who want to work in the United Kingdom may have a hard time finding an employee to sponsor their work visa. Changes to the UK’s immigration laws mean that obtaining the right to stay in the UK is a more difficult process.

For students from outside the European Economic Area, it is even more so. But business schools and MBA employers are finding ways to adapt. And students shouldn’t be put off working in the UK

Before the Government abolished the Tier 1 post-study work visa in April 2013, non-EEA graduates who had studied in the UK had the opportunity to stay in the country and seek work for a further two years after completing their studies. Now, MBA graduates face a more arduous task.

“It is more challenging for international students since the post study work visa was removed. MBAs are now being treated the same as undergrads, and there is a lack of knowledge among employers about what is involved in sponsoring,” says Clare Astley, Cass Business School’s MBA Professional Development Manager.

Those who finish business school this year can only apply for a Tier 2 visa or a Tier 5 temporary worker visa – although entrepreneurs can apply for a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visa, which allows them to work in the UK for one year, with an extension option available.

The problem that MBAs face is that they must have a firm job offer from an employer that is a UKBA licensed sponsor to obtain a Tier 2 visa. And there are only about 27,000 UK-based companies which are licensed to provide them, out of the 4.9 million businesses currently operating in the UK.

Tier 5 visas are temporary, and you must leave the UK altogether and apply from abroad. Most of them are also limited to 12 months.

A House of Lords Select Committee inquiry was recently launched into the changes to immigration policy. EEF, one of the largest industry bodies in the UK, lambasted the policy as “unreasonable".

And it is preventing some companies hiring graduates from outside the EEA, says Tim Thomas, EEF's head of employment and skills policy. “Government policy should not unreasonably restrict employers' ability to access this talent pool; however industry fears that current migration policy is doing just that,” he said in a press release

“[They] must work harder to remove the hurdles employers face when recruiting international graduates, giving businesses simple, easy access to skills they desperately need.”

Employers have to work hard to help international MBAs obtain visas, says Vladimir Brenner, a Russian MBA graduate of the University of Bath School of Management who was hired by Intel last year, after the changes came into force.

“Realistically it is extremely difficult to land a job without the right to work in the UK. And it’s the willingness of the corporation to take an extra step [that makes a difference],” he says.

It wouldn’t have been possible to land his job after the visa changes without that support, Vlad says. “I don’t think I can recall many people who stayed in the UK without the work permit,” he says.

He thinks that it is essential for MBAs to complete work placements and internships before applying for a visa. Colin Hudson, Director of Career Development at Cranfield School of Management, agrees. “Those who are most likely to succeed in getting a role in the UK are those who are most proactive from the very start of their MBA, and who develop a clear target and action plan early in their program,” he says.

Although most UK schools have high MBA employment statistics, Andy Bagshaw, the Lancaster University Management School’s MBA Career Relationship Manager, says that there has been a decline in their international graduates securing work. “It is difficult for international students to secure full-time work in UK-based companies, but we do actively promote the students to companies,” he says.

Tripp Martin, MBA Careers Adviser at Aston Business School, another top-ranking school in the UK, agrees. He says that an international MBA student last year didn’t get a single reply from more than 20 companies they applied to, until they changed their CV to say that they had a right to work in the UK.

“Only about 45 per cent of the companies at one of the biggest UK careers fairs sponsored visas, and even that number is a bit high. Most companies that approach me looking for MBAs are seeking candidates who have a right to work in the UK already,” Tripp says.

But there are many MBA employers who want to hire international graduates. Wendy Sleet, an Executive Recruitment Manager at Admiral Insurance, says that the new visa laws do not put the company off hiring international MBAs. “It’s not a simple process; it’s fiddly and time consuming but it’s not difficult,” she says.

“And it wouldn’t put us off hiring international students. We have a great team of lawyers and we can provide documents ready for visa applications to be made.”

Melanie Colledge, a Graduate Manager at Merlin Entertainments Group, agrees. They hire MBAs from Warwick Business School, which is based in the UK. “International students provide us with an excellent resource to help us with our global growth strategy, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region,” she says.

“Recruiting international students has enabled us to bring in fresh, new talent who are able to help us understand our customers better in new and emerging markets.”

Ify Okolie, a Quality Manager at Fish4Dogs in the UK, says that the more diverse the workforce, the better the quality of solutions they can provide. “International students bring individual talents and experiences, enabling new ideas to be created. They offer employers a range of skills and experience which can help companies expand their presence in countries outside of the UK,” he says.

Nikita Knyazev, a Russian SAP Associate at PwC UK, says that international students can provide bilingual qualities. “[Sometimes] there are projects where clients want Russian-speaking people. And being Russian is an advantage both in terms of the language, and in knowing how business is done in Russia and neighbouring countries,” he says.

Many companies have had to adapt their MBA hiring strategies. Admiral, for example, has switched from a third-party recruitment agency to an internal process, says Wendy. “We wanted to be closer to what was happening and understand what the border agency is expecting. And we can only do that by dealing with it on a day to day basis,” she explains.

Admiral hires predominantly from INSEAD Business School, but the company is happy to take international graduates from around the world, Wendy says. “We’re happy to look at international candidates because we want the best people, even if they don’t happen to live or work within the European Economic Area,” she says.

“When they present themselves we can look for an opportunity to find a sponsorship. If other companies don’t do that then there’s more candidates for us to hire. “

Business schools have responded too. Lancaster’s MBA students, for example, benefit from external visa specialists and the school provides UK-specific advice for students developing CVs and applications, says Andy.

Aston has an internal visa team in their student support center, The Hub. The school has various networking sessions and MBA projects hosted by top UK employers including IBM, Deutsche Bank and Jaguar, says Tripp.

Colin from Cranfield says that they invite their MBA students to watch visa-related webinars and provide visa information-packs. “While many organisations have improved on this [hiring], international students still feel the strain. So we are always seeking new avenues for raising awareness,” he says.

What is essential, of course, is partnering with employers. Bath has ties with MBA recruiters at Intel and Admiral who come into the school and work closely with the careers department.

Clare from Cass says that it’s important to educate MBA recruiters. “We continue to educate employers about the visa requirements of our students and the fact they do not need to complete a labour market test to sponsor,” she says.

“Non-EU students at Cass can work full-time over the summer to gain some UK work experience, and leverage this to get a permanent sponsored role.”

But Colin says there is still reluctance among UK employers to take on international MBAs. “While many organisations have improved on this, there is still a degree of reluctance from UK recruiters to embrace the visa process for strong candidates, rather than only considering UK nationals,” he says.

To address this problem, Admiral has begun hiring international MBA students for short-term internships, says Wendy. “We used to use a project-work approach, but this is the first time we have offered internship opportunities. Providing that all goes well then that could offer us an opportunity to broaden that approach,” she says.

But internships will not guarantee MBA jobs and work visas. While they are important for internationals, what is equally as important is persistence, says Bath MBA graduate Vlad. He landed a summer internship at Intel before being hired as a Finance Pricing Specialist on a full-time basis.

“Try as hard as you can to get an internship which allows you to learn over the summer. And over those three months you will have the best possible chance to showcase your skills to a potential employer,” he says.

The UK Government has made it much more difficult for international MBAs, no doubt. But the long process is worth it in the end, adds Vlad. “I cannot see many other routes to securing a work permit. Other than getting married, of course.”