January 31, 2011 12:33 am

How to get the right visa

Applying for a visa can seem long and complex – especially when an MBA student has already had to secure a place at business school and take the decision to leave a job and country.

The visa application then has to be repeated if, upon completing your course, you wish to stay in the same country to work. The process can be daunting, but there are support networks available, particularly among schools.

In general, a study visa application must be made at the nearest embassy or consulate representing the country in which you plan to study. You will normally be asked to pay for the visa, confirm where you will be studying, and prove that you can afford to live independently.

For work visas, you will usually need an offer of employment. Sometimes applicants will be called for a personal interview.

US

In the US, students need to apply for an F-1 visa, by filling in a so-called Form I-20 provided by their chosen school. Attention to detail is vital when applying. A lot of time is spent on application forms, both by the university and immigration officers, so it is important to make sure documentation is clear. USAstudentvisa.org is a good online source of information.

At the beginning of every fiscal year, Congress makes a quota of visas available for students who graduate in the US. These visas are called H-1B visas and, as with other work visas, must be applied for by an employer on behalf of the student. A maximum of 65,000 H-1B visas are issued every year. Each visa lasts for three years but may be extended to a maximum of six years.

In recent years, there has been much debate surrounding the number of visas made available each year. Companies believe the market should dictate this figure, while US legislators believe American citizens should be given priority for jobs. The result has been a tightening of regulations that has led to a significant decrease in international students and workers.

UK

In the UK, non-members of the EEA/EU need to apply for a student visa under Tier 4 of the Points-Based System (PBS) introduced in March 2009 by the UK Border Agency.

This system replaced former immigration rules and divides visas into five tiers or categories that support entry to the UK for the purposes of work, study or training. To obtain these visas, candidates must pass a points-based assessment. Further information can be found on the UK Border Agency website.

Tier 4 visas are for people wishing to study in the UK, and require 40 points. A confirmation of acceptance of study from a licensed sponsor (school) grants 30 points. The remaining 10 points can then be achieved by meeting the maintenance requirement set by the UK Border Agency. This includes the cost of your course, living expenses (approximately £800, or $1,280, for inner London and £600 elsewhere) and the support of any dependants accompanying you.

Alison Walker, international officer at Imperial College London, says the main advantage of this new system is its “clarification of the process”. However, students now face almost double the amount of paperwork. As a result, the school has a specialist team of experts offering a one-stop shop for all visa-related matters.

On completing your MBA course, if you wish to stay in the UK to work, you need to apply for a Tier 1 Post-Study Work Visa under the PBS, which replaced the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) in June 2008.

This visa is for highly skilled migrants and requires 75 points. Under the HSMP, these points were automatically provided to MBA graduates from institutes recognised by the Home Office. Now, however, international MBA graduates must acquire the points in other ways.

Points are awarded under the following criteria, known as “attributes”: qualification (a masters degree scores 35 points, for example), previous earnings (an annual income of £20,000-£22,999 scores 15 points, for example), age (the younger you are the more points you score), UK experience (five points), English language ability (10 points), and maintenance funds – a minimum of £2,800 with a further £1,600 needed for any dependants accompanying you (10 points). Those who do not pass the maintenance funds section, will have their visa refused. The Home Office has a points calculator to help you assess your chances.

France

For France, if you are an MBA student from outside Europe, you must apply for an extended-stay visa with residency permit (VLS-TS). When this is issued, you must then present yourself to the Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration to complete several administrative formalities.

The French embassy provides a service called CampusFrance that assists international students with this process. Founded in 1998, CampusFrance (originally called the EduFrance Agency) is dedicated to international mobility in higher education and has more than 100 offices in 75 countries.

Professor Valérie Gauthier, associate dean of HEC Paris, says this service is “open to diversity”. Indeed, in July 2010, its role was accentuated through legislation that granted it Epic status (that of a public institution). In this new role, it will join forces with Egide, France’s leading co-ordinator of international mobility.

In contrast to this service, non-EU nationals applying for a work visa in France have significantly more difficulty, as employers must file on behalf of the candidate. Prof Gauthier says the stronger the brand of the business school, the easier the process. In particular, schools with an active alumni network are a further help.

China

In China, students must apply for an F or X visa (depending on the length of the programme). Schools help with this by processing and delivering a JW202 form to the Chinese consulate. Angela Chen, MBA admissions counsellor at Ceibs in Shanghai, says “very few students have had any real difficulties” with this process. The main thing is to know in advance what documents are required.

To work in China you will require a Z visa. To be eligible for this visa, you must have an employment permit from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security in China or the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, as well as an invitation letter from your employer, authorised by the Chinese government.

Canada

In Canada, schools are once again actively involved in assisting international students with the student visa process. They provide guidance with all the paperwork and encourage early application to avoid disappointment.

But the big difference is that application for a work visa is virtually automatic in Canada, with no job offer needed beforehand. Niki da Silva, director of MBA admissions and recruitment at the Ivey school at the University of Western Ontario, says the Canadian government is “very forward thinking” and has recently changed immigration policy to “make the system more friendly”. The length of time granted on work visas will usually match the length of time spent studying.

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