UK Visa Curbs Threaten Job Prospects For International MBAs

The dean of a leading UK business school says tough visa curbs introduced by the government are making the UK an "unfriendly place to study".

The dean of one of the UK’s top up-and-coming business schools has blamed a decline in enrolment numbers on the tough new immigration curbs introduced by the British government, among other reasons, which is making non-EU MBA candidates reluctant to study in the region.

Jon Reast, dean of Bradford University School of Management, said in an interview with the Financial Times that the loss of students from overseas is a challenge for business schools across the country.

“The UK is perceived by some as an unfriendly place to study,” he said “This is similar in other good quality business schools that we are aware of.”

His comments highlight the challenges that UK universities face in attracting a generation of globally mobile students who are increasingly attracted to business schools in the Asia Pacific region and in North America.

About 50% of MBA students base their location choice on where they would like to work after completing their degrees. But new visa curbs that came into force in the UK in April last year, which closed the post-study work visa, effectively shut the door on students from outside the European Economic Area.

Business schools fear that the lack of job opportunities will put candidates off applying to the UK in favour of more visa-friendly countries, such as Australia and Canada. Bradford’s accelerated MBA program has seen its cohort shrink from 25 in 2013 to nine in 2014.

Jon blamed the decline on British visa curbs and the economic downturn that has made many managers question the value of full-time MBA programs. He said: “Many good quality business schools, including ourselves, have seen reducing full time MBA numbers in recent years.”

Before it was abolished, the Tier 1 post-study work visa allowed UK postgraduate students stay in the region and seek work for a further two years after completing their studies.

“The high of a few years ago was created by HM Treasury’s scheme for high-skilled migrants,” Jon said. “As Bradford were on the list (sic), MBA students were guaranteed a visa to work in the UK post completion of their studies.”

Data from the Graduate Management Admissions Council, administrator of the GMAT, the standard business school entrance exam, show that 60% of full-time one-year MBA programs, which are favoured in the UK and Europe, reported a decrease in applications in 2014.

But the data do not reveal the entire picture. Two-year MBA programs, which are favoured in the US, reported consecutive increases in applications – yet America’s immigration laws are equally as restrictive as the curbs in the UK, according to US business schools.

High-ranking UK business schools admit that it is challenging for international students to find work since the visa curbs came into force, but it is not an image that they want to project.

The director of careers at one of the region’s leading business schools told BusinessBecause: “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.”

Another careers director said most companies that approach the business school are looking for MBA candidates who already have a right to work in the UK. The process of securing a visa for a non-EU graduate can be time-consuming and costly.

A third career manager at a top UK business school said earlier in the year: “Since the visa changes, it is definitely more difficult [for non-EU students to find jobs] and this is illustrated by the decline in our international students securing positions in the UK after graduating.”

However, UK business schools have been trying to adapt to the changes by offering students support in securing internships with UK employers, and opportunities to engage with international recruiters and alumni groups.

For companies, it is something of a mixed bag. Some say privately that they prefer to hire candidates who are already able to work in the UK – but others say the visa changes have not deterred them from hiring non-EU graduates.

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