Thursday, June 09, 2016 at 2pm

International MBA Students: Obtaining a Study Visa

Understanding study visa regulations

International graduate-level education is expanding. Every institution tracking numbers reports an increase across disciplines, including international MBA and business-related studies. Logically, this should suggest an open and easy trajectory for international students seeking a study visa. Sadly, logic doesn’t apply here.

In addition to different levels of study visas, there are more restrictions than ever on the number of international students countries will tolerate. That’s something to consider when short-listing business schools (though everyone knows visas take a back seat when you’re neck-deep in GMAT preparation).

All visas are NOT created equal

Different classes of permits are inherently unequal, even when they fall under the category of study visa. This isn’t an Animal Farm situation whereby some visas would be more equal than others; every study visa comes with stipulations based on where you’re from, where you’re going, what you plan to do there, duration, family situation, personal history as well as current national and regional legislation.

That’s the easiest way of letting you know that you need to spend time considering your options before submitting your international MBA applications and to do this again before accepting an offer from one institution over another. The type of student visa you receive will open or restrict your post-graduate opportunities accordingly (and will put a lot of pressure on you during recruiting season).

If you’re among the 51% of MBA applicants that hope to work in the same country they will be studying in, you should probably take a (short) break from your GMAT prep to consider your student visa options.

Study visa regulations for popular MBA destinations

Over the past several years, there have been some frightening reports released about the limits imposed on visas to study in the UK. If you’re sitting anywhere outside of North America, US visa regulations are intimidating (at best). Combine that with the spider’s web of EU visa laws (as much as you’re tempted to believe the region operates homogeneously, it doesn’t)... and you may prefer to work on those quant questions.

UK study visas

Study visas for the UK are divided into two primary categories – European applicants and everyone else. In this instance, European refers to everyone holding a passport from a country in the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland. EEA and Swiss passport-holders must register for residency when studying in the UK, a process that the international offices at universities often facilitate.

Everyone else needs to pay attention to the quotas and tiers established by the UK government. In 2011, parliament began taking steps to reduce the number of international students by 25%. Wait; don’t panic! International MBA students accepted to London Business School, Cass Business School and similar institutions are not the target of these restrictions. Upon acceptance, recognized institutions become sponsors for Tier 4 visas, which is what you will need to study in the UK.

A Tier 4 visa enables you to study full time for one year and includes flexibility for part-time work during academic terms. Graduates wishing to remain in the UK to search for employment will need to apply for a Tier 2 visa which is valid for six months; after landing a job, your employer becomes your sponsor. Entrepreneurs with startup capital fall under different regulations. For all of the complexity of the UK visa system, the British Council does attempt to make navigation easier.

EU study visas

For all the regionally accepted legislation across the EU countries, student visa policies for international students vary dramatically across member states. While Schengen visas allow tourists to move from Spain to Germany through France without any hassle, international MBA students will find different restrictions based on their country of origin and country of study.

Some of these differences relate to historical ties between countries that pre-date the EU and modern governmental norms. For example, France maintains relaxed visa laws for citizens of former colonies. In Switzerland, visas are issued by the canton (the equivalent of a state or province), not the national or federal government. Students accepted into a university in Basel will face similar hurdles to those accepted in Lausanne, but will approach different authorities.

Germany has a proactive educational policy which extends to all levels of education in the country. German public universities are free of charge – even to international students (the catch is, of course, ability to speak the language). At the graduate level, Germany allows international MBA candidates from select countries to apply for their visa up to 90 days after arrival in the country. But, the type of visa you need is based on factors ranging from country of origin to level and discipline of intended study.

Of course, students from EEA countries or Switzerland will find it relatively easy to study (at any level) elsewhere in Europe; it generally only requires registration - though many countries insist upon healthcare insurance before residence is conferred.

US study visas

For all the hype regarding the stringency of US visa regulations, the process is remarkably straightforward, but that does not mean it doesn’t have pitfalls. International students will need to apply for an F-1 visa which requires the I-20 form supplied by your university upon admittance. Only citizens of Canada and Bermuda are exempt from F-1 visa requirements, though they’ll still need to present their I-20 at immigration upon arrival.

Similar to the UK, applicants for US visas can expect to remain in the country for the duration of their studies. After that, they will need an employer to provide the appropriate sponsorship to remain.

However, it’s worth noting that the US government provides visas to applicants based on their ties to their home country. Anyone actively seeking to remain in the US post-graduation is likely to be denied a student visa, and this will reflect on the system when applying for any visa to the US in the future. That doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t be recruited by US companies during your MBA, but you will need to keep the government’s perspective in mind during the visa application process.

All international students must do one thing

With all these differences, there is a single universal rule that applies to all international students requiring a visa to enter their country of study - apply early. Get your applications in during a school’s first or second rounds (as appropriate to your chosen program) if at all possible. While this tactic doesn’t guarantee you a visa, early admission will give you time to sort through all the paperwork at a time when you aren’t worried about GMAT strategies.

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Katie studied human rights and graduated with a bachelor's degree from Kent State University while working with NGOs in Geneva. Although she has since settled in South Africa, with work towards a master's in forced migration thought the University of Witswatersrand, nothing stops her from being a proud American. Katie has been part of the Prodigy Finance team as a content specialist since 2013. She also loves rugby, sloppy Mexican food and Tudor history, which means you could find her in any section of a bookstore.

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