Tuesday, March 24, 2009

To work in the United Kingdom...

...or not.

The United Kingdom recently revamped their visa regulations, switching over to what the UK Border Agency calls the points-based system.


There's been less chatter than I expected there would be on this, though perhaps that's because no one is really sure what to make of it yet. It has, effectively, killed off the granddaddy of all schemes to get US students to the UK to work: the BUNAC Blue Card Program (quick note of clarification: BUNAC as an organization lives on, but the US-to-UK program is done) -- and with it any number of other organizations that arranged internships for US students and graduates but relied on BUNAC to get folks into the UK legally.

It's something of a mess trying to make heads or tails of the new system. There is a lot of information on the internet about it, and a lot that can be found on UK Border Agency pages, but trying to make sense of what options might be available to students and recent graduates...

Yikes. Which is somewhat akin to my earlier ouch.

As best I can figure, for US students and recent graduates it effectively boils down to this: you simply can no longer work in the UK. If you want to secure some sort of work or internship, it must be part of an educational exchange with an accredited, monitored, and licensed sponsoring educational institution/program (to be fully implemented on 31 March 2009).

For those familiar with the old system and regulations, there's an overview of the changes available. But because they have not yet fully implements Tier 4 -- which is the student category -- specific information as it relates to students (and I am fairly confident in saying that this effectively wipes out recent graduate opportunities) is lacking.

There is a rather daunting Guidance for Sponsor Applications on the Border Agency's website for the hardcore among us -- together, I might add, with equally daunting guides to immigration offenses and penalties.

Here is a snippet from the post-March 31 Guidance:
223. Migrants in the Tier 4 (General) Student category on courses of study at a minimum of NQF Level 3 or its equivalent (or at the equivalent of a United Kingdom degree level or above if an overseas qualification) are able to take course-related work placements. Work placements must take up no more than 50% of the full course length in the United Kingdom.

224. Migrants in the Tier 4 (General) Student category are also allowed to do other work. During term time, they are allowed to work for a maximum of 20 hours per week and during vacations they can work full time. This is in addition to any work placement that forms part of their course.

227. Other than when the migrant is on a work placement, all study that forms part of the course must take place on the premises of the sponsoring educational institution, or at a temporary location authorised by the sponsor. For example if the student is on a field trip, this will be acceptable.

Not overly daunting -- though the big change, the real earth-shaking change when it comes to what's been possible in years past, is in the requirement that this work is tied, both in terms of time but also in terms of type to an educational program.

Now there are other levels and other tiers -- though tier 3 unskilled labors has already been suspended and their are intimations that depending on circumstances tiers 1 & 2 might be similarly restricted or shut down -- but realistically there is precious little room for recent graduates in the scheme, which is understandably if disappointingly skewed to bringing in highly skilled labor.

And from the UK side of things -- be they educational institutions or companies -- I cannot imagine that there is much happiness about the multiple layers of application, vetting, and licensure that now seems to be required, although one recent report notes mixed reactions.

It is interesting to note that as the UK clamps down, other countries are opening up. Australia has been pushing its working holiday options lately, and Canada, (US citizens are actually out of the running for Canada too; see the list of eligible countries), New Zealand, and Singapore offer similar programs open to US citizens -- though these are quite different beasts from the BUNAC Blue Card Program to the UK, not the least because they require proof of a substantial bankroll (in support of the time you are holidaying and not working in country).

Well, I guess if you want to work in a pub, you can still go to Ireland.


Addendum (20 May 2009): Well, it just keeps getting more and more challenging. Here's a bit of the latest from NAFSA which maintains a running log of UK visa regulations updates.
Please also note that as of June 1st students will have to demonstrate that they have held the requisite tuition and maintenance funding for 28 days. The concession currently in place allowing students to simply show possession of the funding at the date of application will end May 31st.

Again, I can understand the rationale behind this, but for students relying on the disbursement of financial aid from their home institutions...? Oy!!

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