UK Employer Visa Cap Puts International MBAs Under Pressure

The UK's top schools say they are being hurt by immigration curbs, as an employer visa cap edges closer to being filled - threatening the career prospects of non-EU students.

International MBA candidates from outside the EU face fresh challenges in securing the right to work in the UK as the government’s visa curbs continue to damage the reputation of UK business schools and make it harder for companies to recruit non-EU talent.

UK regulations which came into force in 2013 require students from outside the EEA to find an employer willing to sponsor them to work in the UK.

But schools contacted by BusinessBecause have said companies are “reluctant” to do so, preferring the comparative ease of hiring EU students. One career development executive at a top UK business school said simply: “It is more difficult for international students.”

UK employers who recruit highly-skilled workers from outside the EU face increasing curbs because the annual visa quota edges closer to being filled.

New analysis by the Oxford Migration Observatory reveals that the 20,700 yearly cap was nearly filled between April 2014 and March 2015.

In April the Home Office increased the monthly allocation by 825 to prevent the cap from being breached. But as a result, there will be 75 fewer visas each month for the rest of 2015.

Immigration is a sensitive domestic issue and the new Conservative UK government has made a commitment to “maintain [the] cap at 20,700 during the next parliament”.

The Oxford Migration Observatory said in a statement: “The trend of increased demand suggests that this year, the government is likely to start to deny visas to skilled non-EU migrants as a result of the cap.”

In order to qualify as a skilled migrant, workers must earn more than £20,800 in salary.

Students with a current visa are exempt from the cap, the Observatory said, but foreign graduates who return home to look for work in Britain — a previous two-year searching permit was axed — will still face the squeeze.

International MBAs are under increasing pressure to secure job offers before finishing their studies.

The effect of the government’s visa curbs on MBAs in particular is highlighted in data submitted by the top-100 business schools to the Financial Times Global MBA Ranking 2015.

A survey of MBA students who graduated in 2011 shows that 87% of students were from outside the EEA, with many from India, China and the US.

But only one-third of total overseas graduates still work in the UK three years later.

This compares poorly with the US, where around half of MBAs remain to find jobs. The rate for UK graduates of masters in management and finance programs is even lower, about 25%.

Financial services and consulting are the two industries that benefit most from hiring internationals. They collectively employ 55% of those students who stayed in the UK, according to FT data.

But not only are some recruiters reluctant to hire foreign graduates, there is a lack of knowledge among employers about what is involved in sponsoring, said a careers manager at a top business school in London. “MBAs [are] being treated the same as undergrads,” the person said.

Another careers manager at a UK business school said: “Since the visa changes it is definitely more difficult [for internationals], and this is illustrated by the decline in our international students securing positions in the UK after graduating.”

Academics have warned that this damages UK institutions’ reputations and has made destinations with more favourable visa rules, such as Australia and Canada, more attractive.

Several UK business schools declined to comment.

Christoph Loch, dean of Cambridge Judge Business School, said in a blog post this month that attracting bright minds in a global competition for talent is “an issue” for many companies, “especially for us as a university”.

“It’s hard not to be incensed by restrictive legislation that reduces the appeal of the entire country to talent from abroad,” he said, adding that the visa curbs will “hurt the UK’s reputation and standing”.

“Current policies not only are ineffective…But outright hostile and unfair toward a population of highly talented people who collectively do have an influence on the reputation of the UK in the world,” he said.

Katharine Boshkoff, vice president for global career development at Hult International Business School in London, said: “A number of countries have restrictive visa policies and the UK, EU and the US can all be problematic for international students.

“In these countries, to acquire a visa employers must demonstrate that the candidate is more qualified than a candidate with in-country work rights.

“Regardless of visa challenges, our focus as a business school is to skill our students to be the most competitive and attractive employees possible.” 

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