Arundati Dandapani, graduated international student in the UK, shares her experience of seeking permanent employment in the UK..
“Life as a foreign student in the UK can be challenging to say the least. I have encapsulated my experiences over the past year as a Publishing graduate on a tier 4 student visa in a format that I hope is both interesting and useful to readers of the PIE:
The end of a worker-friendly era: backed by a simple liberal arts degree from America and with four years of working at writing and editing jobs in India, I applied for a Masters in the UK, fully intending to work there after studies. At the time of application, I was entitled to two years of Post Study work, as well as qualify for Fresh Talent Scotland, but then an angry bout of youth riots wrecked the streets causing panic in the British parliament and in homes. Quickly in April 2012, the Post Study work permit that earlier allowed non-EEA students to stay on for two years on the condition of a job offer (from any company) was repealed, leaving me with a small fistful of potential employers or publishers to approach. These were what I memorised to be 1500 pages of licensed sponsors as approved by the UKBA.
“I had to apply to 105 places to actually get called in to 10 interviews”
Education is a purely commercial enterprise: and one has to demand value for it. Professors will limit availability, answer emails rarely, and restrict office hours. They will wax and wane about being more academic than insightful, and, you have to customise your degree to suit your own good priorities: be it a job offer, professional networks, grades, or leisure holidays. I focussed on a job priority, and failed, although I did gain a few good professional experiences in the bargain.
People won’t mix with you: It is a close-knit society, but if you find a group of like-minded or other professionals with whom you can share simple working hours with, CLING until it blossoms into something. A year is not enough to make friends in Great Britain, but at least some good working relationships are a goldmine.
The Job market is suspicious of you: I had to apply to 105 places to actually get called in to 10 interviews. They all declared my CV impressive and predicted I’d “go far.” How much farther! I would protest. By the time my dream job opening came up in the middle of December, I had already booked my tickets back to India, as I neared the expiry date on my visa.
Internships are contentious: You don’t have a national insurance number and nobody asks for it at your internship, they may not even look at your passport. Employers are not paying you a minimum wage, and yet the more interning you do, the better you get a chance at actual employment. Six internships got me a fixed term employment as an ebooks assistant.
“A year is not enough to make friends in Great Britain, but some good working relationships are a goldmine”
Cold Calls to Every Employer on the Register of Sponsors! On tele-calling every publisher featured on the UKBA’s register of sponsors, some claimed unaware of their UKBA status, and when I explained, they said upfront that they had no “quota” left, and would not consider my application if I did not have an existing work permit. I replied that although I had a student visa that allowed me to work fulltime until January, I could only apply for a proper work visa after I had a job offer in hand, so couldn’t I still apply? The response was negative.
Nobody wants you: Graduation drew near, and classmates who barely talked to me opened their mouths only to ask me, “When are you going home?!” When the annual London Book Fair happened, I knew London was it. People were actually interested in my skills, ideas and were actually having conversations about publishing. Internships took shape, and I narrowed the longer term prospects, focussing my job search to publishing alone (although I did approach a bakery and some advertising agencies who were licensed sponsors), because only a handful of international publishers were eligible to sponsor a tier 2 non-EEA migrant.
Talk to Everybody: I applied to 105 places, got called to 10. Interviewers called me interesting, adventurous and a lot of other adjectives that I quickly realised were not helping my case. They were perhaps referring to the geographic diversity I was used to. After learning the lingo of career centres and speaking with recruitment consultants and insiders from the industry at publishing events, I took a few more hints.
“Increase the extent of student visas issued to migrant labour, to offer time for job search”
Failure makes you stronger: Only about three publishers were actually explicit about an open and willing policy to hire, but by the time I qualified for any eligible positions within these companies and by the time their vacancies opened, it was the middle of December. After having completed over six internships alongside my degree studies and a fixed term employment within a hot market function of publishing, I had lost eventually.
Office Gossip (not love) makes the world go round: Towards the rundown to Christmas and near the end of my fixed term at a publishing house, colleagues took turns commenting, “What a pity they did not renew your contract.” They knew I was on a fixed term contract, my nationality was different, my length of stay would be limited to the duration of tasks, and so, short term, etc..
Three weeks into my job, another candidate was taken on to fill the same duties towards what immediately struck me as eventual permanence at a lower salary than if they had decided to sponsor me. Colleagues delighted in this set-up for rivalry. By the end of my tenure I was itching to depart, the daily six-hour round trip commute only got longer as we nudged sub-zero temperatures, and constant delays caused by flooding and regular suicides on the railway tracks. The only things that got me through those months were my persistence and positivity.
Is Britain unprepared for a diverse workforce? Britain is a tiny country that cannot sustain its own recession, but Norway is not bigger than Britain, and yet offers more diversity in the workplace and by about 2050 about half its population will be taxpaying migrants/immigrants. If UK businesses do not take initiative to look outwards, the government will not make it its business. UK’s businesses are built around individuals whose mindsets and openness towards skilled migrants will only determine how dynamic or multicultural the UK workplace actually is.
Going by the passionate words of London Mayor Boris Johnson or Scottish Cabinet Secretary of Education Mike Russell, one would be inclined to believe that UK desires foreign students and flexible work rules for non-EEA migrants. But if the UK is actually serious about increasing its intake of foreign students and not losing out to Canada or Australia — destinations with an edge of more flexi work rules, then I can propose the following two ways in which to rectify the current situation:
- Increase the extent of student visas issued to migrant labour, to offer time for job search (My American fellow students enjoyed a longer term visa than myself).
- Allow non-EEA students who have graduated from the UK to apply for a tier 2 visa even after they return to their home country without complications. Let there be some incentive to studying in the UK.
When skilled foreign graduates from UK universities are not viewed with the same professional parity as Europeans or migrants from other privileged economies in the Great British workplace, it signals both mistrust and xenophobia. In a world where everyone is looking for collaborations and looking outwards, it is a pity that the UK is not encouraging of foreign workers and ensuring a dynamic or diverse workplace.
Arundati Dandapani is very shortly returning to India after completing her Masters at the University of Stirling, UK. firstname.lastname@example.org