International student job search FAQ UK

Written by Noeleen Hammond Jones, International Careers Consultant at the Careers Service.

I was asked recently by a colleague to answer some frequently asked questions that all careers advisers/consultants who work with international students get. Here are my answers to these questions.

1. How easy is it to get a job in the UK?

It is not easy getting a job in the UK but it can be done.  If you are looking to stay on and work in the UK, you can find out more about work visa regulations for the UK and how they affect international student hiring on the Careers Service website UKCISA and UK Government site – are excellent sources of visa information

The students that succeed in getting jobs in the UK work just as hard on their job search strategy as they do their degree. The do the following:

  • Attend employer events, networking sessions, skills sessions and open evenings
  • Join relevant industry clubs
  • Attend fairs and prepare for the fairs through researching the employers attending
  • Engage with their careers service to ensure their CV and applications are good enough and portray the right information
  • Attend careers events on campus
  • Attend alumni events on campus
  • Research thoroughly their sector and the companies they want to work with
  • Reach out to alumni working in those organisations of interest
  • Engage with employers at events and on campus and ask for business cards

2. How likely is it that I will get sponsored?

It depends on your job hunting strategy? No employer wants to hear the question “do you sponsor visas?” this makes them nervous and they feel that is all you are interested in, not a career with them but to stay in the UK. Your approach to employers is key but you need to be education yourself. Know the visa regulations by referring to the UKCISA website for the latest updates and how they may affect you and in turn you may be able to educate employers who show interest in hiring you. It is more likely that you would get sponsored by a large multinational than by a small to medium sized company but there are many different firms who sponsor. For the latest list of Tier 2 and Tier 5 sponsors see here: Register of Licensed Sponsors 

3. At what stage do I tell companies that I need to be sponsored for a visa?

This will depend on you and how risk averse you are. It also depends on what information you have researched on the company. For instance if they are not on the sponsor register then they are unlikely to sponsor you but if they are on the sponsor register they are more likely but not guaranteed. Some organisations are only on the sponsor register to hire experienced professionals but you won’t know this until you apply. If the organisation states on the job description that you “must be eligible to work in the UK “or “have the right to work in the UK” then again it is unlikely they will sponsor.  Some companies are put off by becoming sponsors as they feel it will be too much work this is where your knowledge of the visa system can work in your favour. A conversation and a referral to an immigration lawyer can put them at ease.

Most students will be upfront on their application and cover letter. If the company asks your eligibility you must be truthful. The rest of the students will go through the process of recruitment and take the risk at the end when the question is asked at interview or offer stage. Both approaches have their own advantages and disadvantages. To see an example of a cover letter that includes discussing your visa requirements see our Starting points guide area and look for Covering Letter Guide.

4. Who sponsors international students?

To see who sponsors refer to the sponsor register. This is continually updated and has over 29,750 employers listed. It is a PDF so can be navigated holding down the “ctrl” button and “F” key together to give you a search bar at the top right of the document. To see the latest document follow the link Register of Licensed Sponsors 

5. Which career sector is more likely to sponsor me?

I have put together a list of some of the sectors I believe are happy to sponsor international student applicants for graduate roles. This is provided in good faith, but do check with the organisations themselves to confirm their position and that they are on the Sponsor Register.

  • Banks/Finance
  • Consulting
  • Law firms
  • IT
  • Engineering/Manufacturing
  • Scientific

6. Can I get some UK experience and then go home?

All work experience is important to employers and if your intention is to go home but get a little experience first then Tier 5 could be a valid option for you.  Tier 5 visas are available through particular agencies who act as the visa sponsors so that your employer does not have to sponsor your visa or be on the sponsor register which gives you far more options in terms of potential employers.

Tier 5 Temporary Worker (Government Authorised Exchange) is intended to give university students the chance to gain work experience related to their course before they return home. You can find more details on the UKCISA website and the university careers webpages.

Each agency has different criteria for sponsoring under Tier 5 so read their conditions thoroughly before applying but most follow these rules:

  • The role must not be for longer than 12 months (BUNAC this is 6 months)
  • The work must be related to the graduate’s course of study
  • The role must be supernumerary (outside regular staffing requirements)
  • The internship must be paid at least National Minimum Wage and be in line with all applicable employment legislation
  • The work must be at a skill level of NVQ Level 3 or above

When your tier 5 is up you must leave the country and apply for a new visa from outside the UK, so this is only for graduates looking for a short period of work in the UK. Remember you must consult with an immigration lawyer when applying for a visa the Right to Appeal no longer exists so you only get one chance to get your application right!

7. Where can I find Tier 5 schemes and sponsors?

There are over 70 schemes under Tier 5 Temporary Worker. Tier 5 sponsors are listed alongside Tier 2 sponsors in the Sponsor Register or you can find a list of all the current Tier 5 schemes and sponsors on the UK Visa and Immigration website.

8. Can I work during the summer?

Gaining work experience whilst you study through a part-time job, vacation placement or internship will help you develop skills to add to your CV. UK and international employers value the range of transferable skills and commercial awareness which you can gain through work experience in addition to academic qualifications.

If you are an Undergraduate student the Summer Vacation is part of your vacation period and under your Tier 4 visa you can work full time. You can also work full time during Christmas and Easter.

If you are a Postgraduate student the Summer Vacation is considered your term time and therefore you can’t work full time. You can however still volunteer and work part-time for up to 20 hours per week during this period. Your vacation time for full time work only includes Christmas and Easter vacation periods.

9. Can I get part-time work in the UK which is related to my future career?

Part-time work can include work experience, volunteering and a part-time job. Employers are increasingly looking for students who have diversified their CV’s. They aren’t interested in hiring academics even though your final degree result is important. They want you to develop soft skills such as leadership, team work, communication, interpersonal skills and many more which can be done in the workplace.

Your work experience can be in your field of interest but you have to be diligent to find this and ensure there are opportunities in this field where you are studying as commuting long distances for a part-time job may affect your studies. All work experience is held in high regard by employers.

It is down to you to communicate effectively to employers what it is you want them to know about you. If you are applying for a job don’t list what you did during your part-time job in a hotel as a list of tasks be more creative and think of this as an opportunity to market your skills effectively to employers through quantifiable key achievements rather than “answered email, answered phone, cash handling” these tell me nothing about you, but if you said “worked as part of a diverse team of 15 people across 2 departments” then I would be more impressed.

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