On behalf of foreign graduates in the UK: We come in peace.
Those of us who have survived the British university system have no designs on torpedoing your economy or corrupting your culture. We are not here to sponge off your welfare system or claim asylum. Immigration Minister Damian Green seems thrilled to take tuition dollars from the world's "best and brightest," but come the end of our courses, we're booted out ignominiously. Shouldn't the UK want intelligent, hard-working students to stay?
Some of us came to the UK with the goal of going home after our courses. Some of us, however, wanted to give working abroad a go. But Her Majesty's Government has made it impossible with recent changes to the UK post-study work visa scheme.
Foreign graduates were formerly able to stay for two years and work anywhere, hence why your barista at Pret may have an MSc or two. Now, if they haven't found a job by their visas' expiries, graduates have to leave and no longer have the right to work in the UK. The time between the end of the course and the visa's expiry can be as little as a few weeks' time, not nearly long enough to find viable employment. You may not have ever heard of these changes- most of the press about education visas is about those who want to come study here, not those of us stuck in the transition phase.
There are thousands of us from non-EU or Commonwealth countries who worked tirelessly to gain admittance to elite universities, studied fields that are essentially unemployable at home, and suddenly find our time in the UK being cut short.
Graduates on student visas now need a sponsored position in order to stay, a huge difference from before, when graduates could work without a sponsor. These work permits are like the holy grail of finding employment abroad - employers are reluctant to offer sponsorship without a pre-existing work permit, but work permits are nearly impossible to come by without pre-existing sponsorship. Confused yet? So are we.
The International Student Immigration Service at the London School of Economics, where I'm studying for my master's, laughably told foreign students that the switch to the new scheme would make it easier for us to find work because we'd no longer have to wait for UK and EU applicants to be considered first. This hasn't been the case - with the new requirements for positions, it's harder than ever to find work in the UK as a foreign graduate.
If I found a job I was suited for and that wanted to hire me, we'd both have numerous hurdles to clear. As I am not Jessica Ennis, well, this seems to be impossible.
To obtain a Tier 2 visa for foreign-graduate employees, employers must
• Have a Tier 2 sponsor licence
• Offer a "graduate level" job or be on the shortage occupation list
• Advertise at Job Centre Plus
• Allocate a Certificate of Sponsorship (COS) to applicant
• Offer a minimum salary of £20,000 per year
(per LSE International Student Immigration Service)
While major corporations and organisations tend to have the Tier 2 sponsor licence, many smaller think tanks and NGOs do not. As a graduate in the humanities and social sciences, this hurts me greatly. I've seen a few Leeds-based plumbers on the list, but I did not suffer the indignities of obtaining an MSc in political sociology to work on fixing clogged pipes (no offence to plumbers everywhere- I salute you!).
No one seems to be able to define a "graduate level" job, so there's that.
No one, especially not in any think tank, NGO, publishing, or media-based jobs, advertises at Job Centre Plus. I'm like any other graduate in politics - I troll through W4MP and Gorkana numerous times a day looking for work, and most of the listings there do not match up with what's offered at Job Centre Plus.
Certificates of Sponsorship are the holy grail of finding work abroad, so good luck to all in getting one of these.
The minimum salary of £20,000 per year seems to be the worst requirement. Most grad schemes or entry-level positions offer in the range of £15-18,000 a year as salary. While £20,000 is barely a living wage, we can't afford to take the positions for which we're technically qualified simply because the low salaries leave us unqualified for visas, thereby putting a proverbial foot on the ladder, and without further experience (which we can't get without visas), we're unable to compete for the jobs that offer qualifying pay.
Perhaps it's my fault for being born American or studying political sociology, an unquantifiable and indescribable topic that, after a year of postgraduate work, I still can't define. Maybe I should have focused my studies on American-based topics, but my passion for the past three years has been studying European far-right groups. I can't exactly take my arcane knowledge of the EDL and use it well in South Florida.
All I know is that I'm not here to take your benefits, I've dreamt of living in London since I was 6, and I refuse to go quietly into the good night come the expiration of my student visa. So please, coalition, give us foreign graduates a chance to prove ourselves. In return, enjoy all the American TV you want.
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