January 25, 2010 12:01 am

Getting 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 has to be repeated if, upon completing your course, you wish to stay in the same country to work and the process can be daunting. However, there are support networks available, particularly among schools.

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IN MBA

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, and to prove that you can afford to live independently.

For student visas, you will need to confirm where you will be studying; for work visas, you will usually need an offer of employment. Sometimes applicants will be called for a personal interview.

US

Attention to detail is vital when applying. Rebekah Melville, associate director of Yale School of Management’s student and academic services office explains that a lot of time is spent on application forms, both by the university and immigration officers, so it is important to “make sure your documentation is clear”. The following website is a good source of information: www.usastudentvisa.org.

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 employers, on behalf of the student. Employment can then be for a period of up to six years.

In recent years, there has been a lot of 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 seen a tightening of regulations which has led to a significant decrease in international students and workers.

UK

For the UK non-members of the EEA/EU need to apply for a student visa under Tier 4 of the radically new 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 (categories) that support entry to the UK for the purposes of work, study or training. In order 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 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 £600 per month), as well as the support of any dependants accompanying you.

Alison Walker, international officer at Imperial College London says it is “too early” to tell if this new system works better for all involved. She says the main advantage so far is its “clarification of the process”. However, the paperwork that students now face is almost double. As a result, the school now has a single specialist team of experts trained to offer a one stop shop for all visa matters.

All business schools advise would-be students to apply early.

On completing your MBA course, if you 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: qualification (A Master’s 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 (5 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). The Home Office has a points calculator that can help you assess your chances.

France

For France, if you are an MBA student from outside Europe, you must apply for a long-stay visa marked “etudiant.” You must then apply for a student residency permit (“carte de sejour”) within two months of arriving in France.

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.

Valérie Gauthier, associate dean at HEC Paris says this service is very “open to diversity”. The HEC MBA programme, for example, currently has a class in which 85 per cent of the students are from outside France, representing 55 different nationalities.

In contrast to this service, applying for a work visa in France is more difficult 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 Counselor 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. In order 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 (SAFEA), 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 as a result 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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