Spotlight - Immigration options for foreign students

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Studying overseas can be the best way for a potential migrant to get a foot in the door to the country of their choice. Many countries offer immigration schemes designed to keep foreign students in the country to fill skills shortage gaps and bolster their competitiveness in an increasingly global economy.

The United States has always been a top destination for students wishing to gain an education overseas. Because of its geographic size and enormous economy, the U.S. has more than enough high quality universities to attract foreign students.

However, other nations have been stepping up in their bids to attract foreign talent. While points-based skilled immigration schemes are popular, the easiest way to start the skilled immigration process is through a graduate-oriented scheme which allows a student to stay on in their country of study upon successful completion of their courses. This allows them to gain valuable work experience and contacts -- then possibly move forward towards a scheme that leads to permanent residence.

Some of the countries other than the United States that offer attractive graduate schemes are the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia.

United Kingdom

Britain has recently improved an immigration scheme for non-European Union and non-European Economic Area (EEA) students who have successfully received a degree from a recognized UK educational institution.

The original scheme, called the Science and Engineering Graduates Scheme (SEGS) was only for graduates of science and engineering disciplines. Launched on 25 October 2007, the SEGS was replaced by the International Graduates Scheme (IGS) on 01 May 2007.

The new IGS scheme allows students of any discipline that earned a degree from a recognized UK educational institution to stay in the United Kingdom for one year after graduation.

Graduates of Scotland educational institutions have an even better deal. They can come under the Fresh Talent Scotland Scheme which allows students who graduate from Scottish publicly funded higher education institutions or an approved private institution to stay on in Scotland for up to two years.

If the graduate wishes to stay in the UK after either scheme's time limit is over, they can switch to another immigration scheme such as the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP), a points-based immigration scheme. In the case of the HSMP, the graduate's work experience during their time under their previous scheme will score points towards their HSMP assessment.


Ireland recently stepped into the arena with their Third Level Graduate Scheme, part of a general overhaul of the nation's immigration policy. This scheme allows non-EU/EEA graduates of Irish third-level educational institutions to remain in Ireland for six months after graduation.

While only allowing half the time that the United Kingdom gives for its foreign graduates, the extension is meant to allow the graduate time to find employment and then apply for an Irish Work Permit or Irish Green Card. The graduate can also extend their stay in Ireland by taking on more study.


Australia, in a major revision of its General Skilled Migration program, has tuned its options for keeping on foreign students.

A new visa subclass, called the Skilled - Graduate (subclass 485) visa, allows foreign students who are in Australia on a valid student visa to apply if they have met a "two-year study requirement" with qualification closely related to their "nominated occupation".

The "two year study requirement" can be met by either obtaining a single qualification requiring at least two academic years of study or more than one qualification resulting in a total period of two years of academic study. These study requirements must be met within the immediate six months prior to application.

The "nominated occupation" is the work the graduate plans on taking up employment in. The job title must be on a list of skilled occupations that Australia maintains, called the Skilled Occupation List.

Another interesting visa of note is Australia's Skilled Recognised Graduate (subclass 476) visa. This category allows graduates of engineering disciplines who have earned a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, a doctorates degree, or a postgraduate diploma from overseas universities to live and work in the country for 18 months. The university must be recognized by Australia. Successful recipients of this visa can apply for more permanent visa categories at anytime.

Other Countries

While not every country has a dedicated immigration scheme for foreign students who want to remain in the country, most top destinations give incentives to those who choose to study there.

Study in the New Zealand greatly aids the chances of being able to stay in the country indefinitely by offering up to 85 bonus points towards its Skilled Migrant Category for those who obtain qualifications there.

Canada recently allowed students to work off campus in both public universities and some private institutions after six months of study, under agreements between the federal government and some provincial governments. Graduates can also seek work permits after completing a bachelors or masters degree which allows them to stay and work for two years, in most cases.

Germany, one of the toughest nations to immigrate to in the European Union, recently ammended its immigration law to allow students to stay in the country after graduation and work in their field of study.