By Ross Geraghty
Published: January 15, 2009
According to the QS TopMBA Applicant Survey 2008,
international flexibility is one of the most compelling reasons for
getting an MBA. Most business school graduates want to spend at least
some part of their careers working overseas, improving their language
skills and gaining invaluable experience of foreign cultures. And
according to recent research by Professor Hamori at IE Business School,
working overseas is a pre-requisite for long-term success to CEO level.
Of course visa regulations differ by country and it is essential to spend time researching the visa requirements of the place you’re interested in. Better still, in many cases you can pay for an immigration lawyer to help you, particularly for countries with very strict visa regulations. Breaking these rules is taken very seriously and can in some cases result in permanent expulsion.
For MBAs, the situation is sometimes easier than for non-MBAs. After all, most governments are interested in bringing top level business expertise, and an above average level of expendable income, into their economies. However, regulations can change quickly and unexpectedly and, as the saying goes, ignorance is no defence. It is up to you to be informed. Most top business schools allow students and alumni access to their careers services and they should be able to help.
Not born in the USA?
Non-citizens trying to enter the US may find the tough visa situation, particularly as the credit crunch is affecting their employment opportunities in the US. The banking industry is cutting, or at least ‘hire-freezing’, jobs. This is exacerbated by the Bush administration’s interesting decision to slash the number of visas offered to international students, including MBAs in 2002-3. Naturally, an MBA from an American business school still provides the best opportunity for non-US nationals to find the role that they seek stateside, though it is possible to earn an MBA elsewhere and still work there.
Julia Bykhovskaia completed her MBA from NYU Stern and was ready to begin her career in either London or New York. “For me personally, the visa process was quite painful. I had to wait several months before I could start working and am very grateful to my employer that they did not withdraw their job offer because I was waiting for my visa approval. Then I had to delay the start date because of the need to travel outside the US to validate my visa!”
Julia is not alone in her experiences. The US, perhaps for obvious reasons, has some of the strictest visa and immigration regulations in the world. It is the number one choice of destination for MBAs because of its mature finance and banking markets. In some cases – and this is by far the easiest way of getting to live and work in the US - employers will sort out the entire process for you. However for those who do not have such an advantage, the process can be a lot trickier.
MBAs hold the upper hand in such negotiations – after all, the US, like everywhere, needs talented managers and leaders – but there are major factors standing in the way of non-nationals getting into the US: visa status, internal competition and the credit crunch.
MBA Graduates need employers to sponsor them for an H1-B visa and there is a limit on how many can be issued each year. In his first term, in a move seen by some as designed to protect the American job market, President Bush slashed the number of H-1B visas available from 195,000 to 65,000. To some, including leading business people from Microsoft, Intel, Motorola and Hewlett-Packard, this seemed immensely counter-productive to their recruitment strategies.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates subscribes to the view that the visa situation is driving away the top talent from US shores, "precisely when we need them most. The terrible shortfall in our visa supply for the highly skilled stems not from security concerns, but from visa policies that have not been updated in over a decade and a half. We live in a different economy now. Simply put: It makes no sense to tell well-trained, highly skilled individuals — many of whom are educated at our top colleges and universities — that the United States does not welcome or value them. For too many foreign students and professionals, however, our immigration policies send precisely this message."
A foreign student looking for a job after their MBA needs to find an American company which will agree to apply for an H1-B visa after the 12-month period ends. For large companies who regularly hire MBA students (think Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, McKinsey, BCG) this is usually not a problem. However it is possible that visas might become a major issue for smaller companies which tend not to have in-house expertise in hiring foreign nationals and often assume that the process of hiring is overly complicated and thus are reluctant to hire international students.
Projections from the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) indicate that MBA employment will increase by 18 per cent in 2008. MBA salaries continue to diverge year on year and business schools continue to search for the best talent available. MBA graduates should keep a close eye on developments stateside but it is too early to predict a long-term downward trend just yet.
Canadian visas for MBA candidates and graduates
Canada is one of the world’s biggest countries, not just in terms of its sheer size but also its economy, and it is the world’s second most popular destination for MBA candidates after the US (according to the QS World MBA Tour Applicant Survey 2008). Canada also, famously, has one of the highest standards of living in the world, with great opportunities for business leaders to create a good career and lifestyle for themselves. With its vicinity to the US and close links with Europe, through its Anglo-French axis, a large Asian population and significantly lower costs than its southern neighbour, Canada is attracting an increasing number of international headquarters; and larger numbers of top MBA graduates are seeking to live and work there.
As an MBA candidate or graduate, your chances of qualifying for a visa are greatly increased. And with an array of top business schools and career opportunities in this very liveable country, a lot of MBAs are paying close attention.
Laura Wood is Associate Director, International Programs & Services at Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto and talks about Canadian visas for MBAs.
“Prior to admittance, our school provides the information fact sheets and advice to foreign students who wish to pursue their MBA here. Once admitted, the student receives documentation stating that they have been accepted to study at Rotman, which they then submit to the government as part of their application to enter Canada."
Wood recommends very sound advice for students who are still overseas and wish to come to Canada. “International students are encouraged to contact their nearest Canadian embassy or consulate as soon as they receive their offer of admission to determine what the study permit application process is for citizens of that country. It is quite likely that they will have to submit the following documentation as part of their application to obtain an entry visa and/or student authorization: a proof of student status (acceptance letter), proof of adequate funds and proof of medical clearance.
Once they have received the appropriate ‘Entry Visa’, the student can enter Canada; the actual Study Permit is something that they receive on arrival at Canadian immigration.
For graduates the process is slightly different, she says. “International students who wish to remain in Canada to work after completing their MBA must apply for a Post-graduation Work Permit through the Citizenship and Immigration Canada. They must lodge their application within 90 days of receiving official notification that they have fulfilled the requirements to graduate, starting from the day that final marks are issued.”
There have been a number of changes to this permit scheme which now make it easier to obtain. “The permit is valid for a maximum of three years, regardless of geographical location within Canada; students no longer need to a find job in their field of study as long as the job requires a university degree; students no longer need a job offer to apply for a Post-graduate Work Permit; it is no longer employer specific (this means that you no longer need to change your work permit every time you change your job) and graduates from the last year (2007) who received a 1-year Post-graduation Work Permit can extend their permit for two more years provided they apply for the extension before their current permit expires."
“We always encourage students to reference the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website for full eligibility requirements, an instruction guide, the appropriate forms and processing times.”
So how easy is it for a non-national MBA graduate that has NOT done an MBA in Canada to work there and what visa info do they need? “Professionals who would like to enter Canada to work have two options: Work Permit (temporary working status) or Permanent Residency (permanent status) through the Skilled Workers Program. Detailed information is available at the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website.
“It can be challenging for professionals to come on a Work Permit as the onus is on the company to prove that no Canadian citizen or Permanent Resident (people with ‘status’ in Canada) is available to do this work. Depending on their country of citizenship, foreign workers may require a temporary resident visa (TRV) to enter Canada. Processing times and requirements differ depending on the type of work to be done in Canada and where they lived in the last year; foreign workers are usually required to take a medical examination before entering the country.”
The winners in the US visa scenario appear to be the European Union and the fast-developing nations whose US-trained talent are returning home with their skills. “We’re picking up talent that the US indicates it doesn’t want,” says one London-based recruiter. “It’s baffling but, at the same time, America’s loss is our gain.”
As of April 2008 the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, which gave preferential treatment to MBAs from a select Top 50 business schools around the world, has been replaced by the slightly less pronounceable Tier 1 (General) Scheme for Highly Skilled Individuals under Points Based Immigration System for the UK. This system, we’ll call it Tier 1, has a new points system and there is no longer any preference for the select 50 business schools. Instead, graduates from all Masters programs will receive 35 points and, like everyone else, individuals have to reach 95 points in order to qualify. This is based on the Australian immigration model.
The advantage is that those on Tier 1 will be eligible for the Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) or Permanent Resident status. This means those staying in the UK for five years (you are allowed to leave the country but you are expected to be domiciled here for nine months of the year) can become permanent British residents.