Visas for After Graduation: What International Students Need to Know

28/02/20225 minute read
Visas for After Graduation: What International Students Need to Know

Perhaps you’re an international student who is looking at schools in the US, the UK, or elsewhere. Maybe you’re nearing the end of your undergrad program. Either way, if you want to live and work in your host country, it’s important to be aware of what visas are available for after graduation.

Between the United States and the United Kingdom, there are thousands of universities to choose from. While the quality of your education should always be a top priority, it is also important to consider the visa options for international students who wish to stay in their host countries for work after graduation. In fact, 40% of international students have named post-graduation work visas as among their top five considerations when selecting a country. As with anything related to immigration, it’s important to begin early, as response times can be slow.

The United States of America

The United States is a popular destination for higher education, with over a million international students enrolled during the 2019-2020 school year. Securing permission to stay in the US after graduating from a program can be more difficult than the other countries on this list, but it is far from impossible.

To begin, your best option is to apply for Optional Practical Training through your university. OPT will allow you to extend your F-1 visa for a year (or 3 years for STEM fields) in order to work a job in the US directly related to your studies. If this is what you’re looking for, make sure the school supports OPT programs. If you’re not sure, contact them for more information.

For those seeking long-term employment in the United States, an H1-B visa is your best bet. Unfortunately, these are more difficult to obtain than F-1 extensions for OPT. Due to the high number of applicants, H1-B visas require you to both receive sponsorship from an employer and enter a lottery in which only 18% of applicants are awarded visas. Those with Masters Degrees from US universities who were not selected in the first round will then be entered into a second round dedicated exclusively to holders of these diplomas.

Many H1-B recipients eventually apply for green cards to obtain permanent residency. You can read more about that process here.

United Kingdom

If you are specifically looking to work overseas after graduation, the UK offers a simpler route forward than the United States. University students who have completed their course of study, and who meet these requirements, can apply for a Graduate visa, which allows you to live and work in the UK for a minimum of two years. Those who want to stay for longer can switch over to a Skilled Worker visa if they can find an eligible job that offers sponsorship. This provides another 5 years of residency in the UK. When this time is up, many Skilled Worker visa holders transition into permanent residency.

One of the advantages of an education in the UK is that the system gives international students ample time to find work and advance through the immigration process. If remaining overseas is one of your top priorities, the United Kingdom may be a better option than the United States.

Other English-Speaking Countries

Though the United States and the United Kingdom are two of the most popular destinations for international students, they are not the only options. New Zealand, Australia, and Canada all offer generous post-study work visas similar to that of the UK. Australia also has special programs for citizens of Hong Kong and those with British National Overseas passports, allowing them to stay for five years after graduation, with a path to permanent residency.

Australia and New Zealand even allow graduates to apply for a second post-study work visa when the first one expires. Like the UK, these three countries offer more straightforward paths to permanent residence.

The United States vs. The Commonwealth

Though there are excellent universities across the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, there are clearly differences in what happens when you finish your studies. Because of this, you should weigh your post-graduation goals against the benefits of each program before you make any decisions. If you want to receive a high quality education plus a year's work experience before returning to your home country, the United States might be for you.

However, if you plan on putting down roots in a developed, English-speaking country, you may want to research programs in the UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Regardless of where you end up, remember that access to resources for post-graduate visas often depends on your university, so make sure you pick one with a demonstrated commitment to international students.