Joe Zhou at the Babson College Boston location on 11/16/16. © Bryce Vickmark. All rights reserved. 617.448.6758
Joe Zhou: a small-scale visa scheme for entrepreneurs allowed him to remain in the US to work on his gaming start-up © Bryce Vickmark

Without the help of a business school, Joe Zhou’s dream of moving from China to the US and becoming a tech entrepreneur would have failed. In the end it worked out — but all has not been plain sailing.

Mr Zhou faced having to return home shortly after graduating from Boston University’s Questrom School of Business because he failed in his petition for one of the US federal government’s annual allocation of work visas.

Mr Zhou was saved by nearby Babson College, however, which offered him one of a small allocation of H1-B work visas earmarked for the school’s Global Entrepreneur in Residence programme.

“It was critical,” says Mr Zhou, who provides mentoring support for Babson students in return for the right to remain in the US. He also works on his start-up, First Blood, an online gaming platform he co-founded this year.

The challenge for overseas business school students to stay and work in the countries where they completed their qualifications has never been easy. In the wake of Donald Trump’s election as US president and the vote in June by the UK to leave the EU, many are concerned it will become more difficult.

Only a quarter of the employers who plan to hire MBA graduates in the US this year expect to take on overseas candidates, according to figures from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), responsible for the GMAT business school admission exam.

Moreover, 47 per cent of those who did hire MBA graduates last year told GMAC they would not consider employing graduates born outside the US. Among the reasons given were that overseas hires cost too much, required time-consuming paperwork and often posed language barriers.

The vote to leave the EU, driven in part by fears about immigration, has raised concerns that UK visa restrictions will be further tightened on overseas MBA students wishing to remain to work.

Post-study employment opportunities were already hampered for this group in 2012 when the UK government removed the tier-1 visa for graduates to remain in the UK to work, which led to a sharp decline in applications from Indian students at some business schools — and at universities.

Almost 10 per cent of the intake on masters courses at Henley Business School in the 2011/12 academic year were from India. A year later this was down to 2 per cent.

Henley’s saving grace was increased applications from other markets, particularly China, says Peter Miskell, head of postgraduate studies.

Concerns about being able to work after graduation were a problem for those studying in the UK before the vote to leave the EU, according to Sangeet Chowfla, GMAC’s president and chief executive. While the weakening British currency makes studying in the UK more attractive, this may be a transitory benefit, Mr Chowfla notes.

“The proliferation of English-taught graduate management programmes throughout Europe is making other study destinations within the continent more appealing,” he says.

One is Nyenrode Business Universiteit in the Netherlands. Dennis Vink, director of its Centre for Finance, notes that those coming from overseas to study at Nyenrode benefit from the relatively generous Dutch immigration rules, which allow people to work for up to a year after graduating on their student visa.

“There will be a shift towards other northern European countries,” he says.

The reason visa restrictions have not affected the numbers applying to Henley from China and other south-east Asian countries is that students do not want to work in the UK after graduation, according to Prof Miskell.

His concern is not just that the marked decline in Indian students may eventually negate the rise in applications from other nationals, but that Henley is becoming increasingly reliant on a small number of countries for all its overseas students.

“We are keen to [attract] a diverse mix of students from different international markets,” Prof Miskell says. “Visa restrictions make this more difficult, as there is a danger of becoming more, rather than less, reliant on China.”

According to Santiago Garcia, dean and director of Grenoble Graduate School of Business, MBA students are more likely to choose where to study with an eye to working in that country than those taking masters courses.

“Masters courses recruit mostly younger [students] who are for the most part not integrated yet in the job market,” he says.

France may become more appealing to students if visa restrictions are tightened elsewhere, according to Prof Garcia, who notes that students are allowed to work 964 hours a year on a French study visa, roughly equivalent to one year part-time or half a year full time.

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