As anyone who is looking for employment in a foreign country knows, obtaining a visa is critical. Today I received permission from the Home Office to stay and look for work in the UK until 2014.
Thanks to the fact that I studied for my BA in the UK, I was able to apply for one of the last Post-Study Work visas before the scheme is closed in mid-April. The government’s decision to close the scheme (and its new requirements for graduates) has caused quite the controversy, and I believe has serious ramifications for graduates looking to work in the Cultural and Creative Industries. The post-study work scheme allowed UK graduates, regardless of their citizenship, to stay in the UK while looking for work for up to 2 years after graduation; during these two years they would be allowed to take up employment with the understanding that they would transfer to a more permanent work visa as soon as they could be sponsored by an employer. Now that the scheme is ending, talented and well-educated graduates will have no choice but to return to their home countries after graduation and look for employment from there. Foreign students will be allowed to remain the country after graduation only if they have secured a job that will pay at least £20,000 with a ‘reputable employer’ who is approved by the UKBA (the border-protection agency.)
What are the ramifications for foreign graduates looking to work in the UK CCIs?
Although all sectors are undoubtably going to feel the effects of these new restrictions and requirements for graduates being brought in by the UKBA, I believe they are particularly incompatible with the nature of most work in the CCIs.
Firstly, as we are learning in our lectures and internships, the CCIs are heavily influenced by networking and personal interactions: how is a grad supposed to make those crucial first contacts if they are an ocean or a continent away? Despite the abundance of online employment listings (like artshub, the Leicester Museum Jobs desk, etc.) most jobs stil insist on old-fashioned face-to-face interviews, made impossible without plane tickets and of a violation of the terms of one’s tourist visa.
If a grad did manage to achieve a job offer, however, he or she would probably still run into difficulties meeting the salary and employer requirements. These barriers render freelancing and self-employment impossible, but also affects work with smaller grass-roots organisations and startups that may struggle to gain accreditation from the UKBA or to afford paying a grad £20,000+ a year. Across the board, from small organisations to large, world-renowned museums, I have noticed that (presumably due to budget restrictions and limited-term grants, most entry-level positions currently offered are fixed-term contracts (although sometimes these contracts last as long as a year or two). In most cases, in order to qualify for a full work visa, one has to demonstrate that they have an offer for full-time, permanent employment; a fixed-term contract wouldn’t suffice. Even in the permanent, full-time category of offers, salaries are very low, far beneath £20,000. Many in the Whitechapel offices were still on fixed-term contracts or had worked for years before earning over £20,000. One person I spoke to was 34 and still was freelancing, unable to success a desirable full-time position despite her decade’s worth of experience.
And so I feel very lucky to have at least secured this two year window for my hunt for permanent employment – I have the feeling that I may appreciate every day of it.