The Graduate Fairs – are there opportunities for international students?

The Graduate Fairs will take place on 11th & 12th June at The Armitage Centre in Fallowfield, Manchester. They are popular with international students, but what are the chances of finding a job offer there?

With over 70 organisations attending on each of the two days the fair is a way to find out about graduate jobs and employers across Manchester and the UK. There are also some international organisations attending such as Decathlon China – who are looking to hire Chinese students and Mandarin speakers on Wednesday, 11th. However, not all firms at the fair will be able or willing to hire international students for their positions. This blog post explores some key messages, if you are heading to the fair and ways to prepare:

Who will be hiring international students?

It is difficult to predict which firms will be willing to sponsor international students for visas, but here are some insights which may help you to plan ahead.gradfair

1) Typically, only firms who are on the UK’s Sponsor Register are currently in a position to sponsor graduates for working visas. You can check whether firms are on the Register in advance of the fair – see the Fair’s webpages for information. Firms can still apply to join the register, and some firms did attempt this last year, following the fair, but it can take time and money to do this. For many firms, that do not struggle to fill vacancies, there is no incentive to do this. Some firms also have nationality requirements fo their roles. However, if you have a strong CV and a professional approach, some firms may spot the opportunity, particularly IT or engineering firms or firms needing language skills.

2) For those firms who are on the Register, and can sponsor, the next consideration is the salary for the position. There are minimum salaries in place for employers looking to sponsor. The absolute minimum is £20,300 per year, but some career areas will have a higher minimum than this. You can find the list of minimum salaries under the Codes of Practice on the UK Visas website, and this UKCISA information is useful.

3) So if the firm is on the register and the salary is high enough, will that be okay? Well, it could be, but it may not! Some recruiters are not familiar with the latest visa regulations for recent graduates so it can be helpful if you follow the latest legislation yourself as you may find it appropriate to help a recruiter with the latest regulations. For example, some changes that recruiters may not be aware of are that:

– if you apply for Tier 2 sponsorship before your Tier 4 visa expires, then there is no longer a labour market test required (where the firm has to show that they could not find a UK / EEA worker for the role).

– if you are moving from a valid Tier 4 visa to a Tier 2 visa the sponsorship does not fall into the monthly quotas for the UK, so certificates are not restricted for Tier 2 visa sponsorship. Employers can ask for more.

You can stay up to date with the most up to date information through links on our website: (Don’t rely on us, we are not immigration experts in Careers, just trying to help you find your way through the regulations!)

What about the other firms?

As mentioned above, firms not on the sponsor register may still be an option for you, but it will come down to whether they are impressed with you as an individual, rather than their policy on hiring international graduates. Many firms at the fair are smaller organisations, who may not have a history of hiring international talent. If you show a real interest in their firm, what they do, demonstrate your own passion for the role and ensure you come across well – who knows. If your first question is “do you hire international students?” , “how much do you pay?” or you find yourself shouting “but you have to hire me, just get on the Sponsor Register!” … probably not! Professionalism is crucial – it’s the one quality they can definitely observe when at the fair.

Perhaps think about the unique skills that you could offer that organisation (language skills/expertise) and communicate that.

What’s the alternative?

If the minimum salary is not high enough… there is not much they or you can do. There may be opportunities to do something short term whilst your Tier 4 visa is still valid, if you are looking to get some expeirence in the UK. You can even extend it if you are a PhD student. Alternatively you could look at a Tier 5 visa – which is a fixed term visa to enable you to gain work experience in the UK for up to 12 months. You will need to get the internship offer first, and also to pay a fee to the visa sponsor (the employers do not sponsor Tier 5 visas) but it could be an option. As there are no minimum salaries and it can be with any employer, there is more flexibility, but you do need to leave the UK after your experience so it is not really a way to move to Tier 2 sponsorship. Find out more about Tier 5 at:

How do I prepare effectively?

There are some useful documents/sites that you should read in advance of the fair. The most essential is the Exhibitors Day 1 and Exhibitors Day 2 links for each of the days of the fair. This will tell you about each of the organisations attending and their vacancies with a link to their website. This can be an excellent way to ensure that you come across informed and motivated by specific companies.

One complaint that I have heard many times from exhibitors at fairs is that students do not have an idea of their own career strengths and motivations. If you hear yourself saying “I am a finance students at MBS, what have you got for me? or “I am studying business information systems, what do you think I could do?”… then you may as well spend your time having a cup of tea at the kiosk. Employers want to hear something more akin to: “I am a finance student at the Business School and I am keen to explore opportunities in xxxxxx, I was really interested to read about your xxxx programme on your website, could you please tell me a little more about it?”…

Tips on the day for international students

We have also put together a handy summary sheet for international students who are attending the fair. It provides a summary of firms who are not on the Sponsor Register (they will be less likely to be able to sponsor visas) and also a summary of key visa legislation and sources of information.   If you are not up to date on regulations, this will help you. The attached sheet was produced in good faith, but please check out firms on the UK Visas website yourself, or ask the firms directly to ensure you have the most up to date information.

Getting help

On the day there is an immigration solicitor available at the fair to offer free one to one short sessions. There are so many different aspects to immigration (Ancestry/ EEA rights) that it can be useful to explore your own situation. The International Advice Team in the Student Service Centre may also be a source of help.

There is no doubt that for some career areas, where firms are typically not on the register, or do not pay minimum salaries, and if you have very little experience on your CV, then it can be disappointing. TIer 2 sponsorship may provide some options. Considering shorter term UK experiences or applying for graduate positions at home alongside trying the UK graduate schemes is encouraged to provide a back up plan. Our pages on International job hunting, international visas and our country pages are all useful sources on the Careers Service website. Our international networks can also provide you a way to connect back into international job markets or explore new ones. Find them at:

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