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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Fee for placement internship opportunities?!? I am shocked. Shocked, I tell you!!

The now defunct NPR program, Day to Day, recently ran a story on the practice of paying for summer internship placements, Really Want That Internship? Pay Up.

Now, to anyone who has looked for international internships over the last few years this will come as no great surprise. Third-party providers have come to dominate international placements; and the results of a Google search for international placements of any sort are clogged with them.

It can be a mind-numbing, frustrating, and more than a little discouraging experience. "Pay to play" seems to be the order of the day.

There is assistance available. Here at UW-Madison the Letters & Science Career Services office coordinates the Henderson-Reznick Family and Shinners Family Summer Internship Scholarships -- a $5,000 award (deadline this year is 31 March 2009). Since that link might disappear after the deadline an archived copy of the application is available on Go Global! servers.

As seems to be implied in the Day to Day piece (and as many of the comments on the story explicitly assert) the idea of paying for an internship (let alone a volunteer placement -- as is the norm now for international placements) is an uncomfortable one: and as it becomes commonplace, these very limited -- albeit generous -- financial assistance packages do little to address the larger questions of access and equity.

This is, by far, the most pressing question and concern of the students interested in working internationally who come by for advising. And there's just not a lot that can be done. It's a fact of life: money buys access.

There has been some pushback and there are some resources available -- with a focus on volunteer opportunities (though in my experience, the distinction between "intern" and "volunteer" is more of historical interest than significant nowadays). Interestingly, much of it has been focused in Latin America, where there are a few websites that emphasize low to no-cost opportunities:
There are, of course, the old work horses such as World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) though here you're getting more into the realm of short-term work opportunities, something I'll be tackling in more detail later (with WWOOF too, as with Volunteer Latin America and others, you buy access to information for a small fee).

There are also new social media sites that are worth exploring -- such as SE7EN and TrekShare. Whether either of these will have legs is anyone's guess at the moment.

I would say "the more the merrier" but with the raw, ham-fisted power of Google and the rather limited ability to sift and winnow and focus both of existing tools and many of those looking for opportunities, it will continue, I think, to be a question of finding those live bodies who can direct you to the better, "hidden" treasures.

Or just buy your way in.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

The land of milk and honey: not so sweet and nourishing anymore?

Interesting but in many respects unsurprising is a recent column by Vivek Wadhwa on BusinessWeek.com titled "Why Skilled Immigrants Are Leaving the U.S." Wadhwa and a team at Duke University have done some research showing that foreign workers coming to the United States (and students who come to study and stay to work) are increasingly heading home.

There is, of course, the much lamented and discussed wait period to secure the necessary permits and visas (the dreaded H1-B) to blame. But Wadhwa also points to another factor in many instances: the fact that these workers can enjoy a better quality of life in their home country than they currently enjoy in the United States.

Now, milk and honey is not slurped uncut anywhere anymore:
It isn't all rosy back home. Indians complained of traffic and congestion, lack of infrastructure, excessive bureaucracy, and pollution. Chinese complained of pollution, reverse culture shock, inferior education for children, frustration with government bureaucracy, and the quality of health care. Returnees said they were generally making less money in absolute terms, but they also said they enjoyed a higher quality of life.

But, still, in surveys Wadhwa and his team found that:
Eighty-seven percent of Chinese and 79% of Indians said a strong factor in their original decision to return home was the growing demand for their skills in their home countries.

This certainly points to expanding labor markets (these expansions might not hold through the current downturn -- what expansions are? -- though one would imagine as the world economies pick back up these expansions will as well). It's not at all clear, however, what corollaries or lessons we can draw for US students interested in working abroad. I doubt that these labor markets are, in most instances, developed enough to begin to absorb excess labor (as the US economy has done -- has depended upon -- for years and years).

One thing that it does mean, for every graduate of any particular US institution of higher education (and perhaps mostly especially for those larger schools like the UW-Madison which have tremendous international student populations), is that there will be more and more alumni of your alma mater in country with whom to network.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

An object lesson in reading far and wide...

Casement internship @ The Economist magazineSo you are looking for an internship in the sciences. And you want to work internationally. Would you think to look for opportunities in the magazine, The Economist? Probably not. But look at this. While reading through a recent issue (7-13 February 2009 to be precise) I came across an advert for the Richard Casement internship at the magazine printed at the end of an article on the Darwin and evolution. Notice how small the type is?

Here's what it says:
We invite applications for the 2006 Richard Casement internship. This is for a would-be journalist under 25 to spend three months of the summer on the newspaper, writing about science and technology. Our aim is more to discover writing talent in a science student than scientific aptitude in a budding journalist. Applicants should write a letter introducing themselves, along with an original article of about 600 words that they think would be suitable for publication in the Science and technology section. They should be prepared to come for an interview in London or New York, at their own expense. Applications must reach us by February 25th. They should be sent by e-mail to casement@economist.com.

There is an online listing for the internship but it's tagged to the pages in the print edition. As of today it's not showing up when you click through from the homepage >> career opportunities >> internships >> other internships link series.

What I find most intriguing about the opportunity is that the magazine's "aim is more to discover writing talent in a science student than scientific aptitude in a budding journalist."

Regardless of what discipline or field you work in, you need and ought to reading far and wide. Obviously you can't scoop up everything, but it is little gems like this that you are much more likely to stumble across. Otherwise you will simply run after the same opportunities as everyone else -- with about as much luck.

Not to mention the fact that you will simply know so much more about the world you live in and the wider world in which you wish to work (and be that much better prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that do come along). After all, if you want to work internationally in the sciences, it's not enough anymore (was it ever?!?) just to be strong in the scientific discipline of your choosing. You must be equally ready to prepare yourself for the challenges that come from working in a global workplace.

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