Elizabeth Ching and Katharine Boshkoff

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What every business graduate should know.

For many graduate students, the prospect of working abroad is a beautiful dream. It’s easy to forget that making that dream happen requires a strategy, careful planning, focusing on the countries most receptive to foreign workers, and acquiring a work visa. Although the visa journey can feel like endless bureaucracy, an overwhelming burden of forms, and unlimited red tape, a determined applicant can prevail.

Each year hundreds of foreign students achieve employment in a foreign market. It is entirely possible to achieve a foreign assignment and visa, but a word to the wise – it is hard work, and visas are earned by those who are both determined and creative.

Here’s an introduction to the work visa application process in some popular destinations.


For students who complete a year of study in the U.S., the OPT (Optional Practical Training) visa is a great option. Graduates can work in the U.S. for 12 months after graduation, with the same work rights as citizens – they can apply for jobs, start a business, do a post-graduation internship, etc.

Many students use the OPT visa to get a toe-hold in the market and to achieve employer sponsorship for an H-1B visa, which is granted to those who work in a specialty occupation. ‘Specialty occupation’ is a very general term for any job that requires specialized knowledge for human-centric work. Due to U.S. government visa caps, only 85,000 H-1Bs are awarded every year, through a lottery held in April. To apply for an H-1B, you need the following:

  • An approved petition from your employer
  • A bachelor’s degree or higher

The petition is your employer petitioning the government on your behalf to let you work in the U.S. You get the job offer, and your employer takes care of the rest.

The H-1B visa is one of the more generous visas and allows foreign workers to spend up to six years employed in the U.S. Since demand far exceeds supply, people may want to consider other visa options. There are close to a dozen other little-known specialty visas that also enable foreigners to work in the U.S.

For example, courtesy of the NAFTA trade agreement, citizens of Mexico and Canada can work on a TN visa. This is a visa for specialist occupations, including management consulting.

For students from the 60+ countries that have international trade agreements with the U.S., an E1 visa can be acquired if you work for a business that is majority-owned by your home country and engages in international trade with the U.S.


Visas in the U.K. follow a point system and have five tiers. Tier 1 visas are granted to entrepreneurs, investors, and individuals with “exceptional talent”. Entrepreneurs and investors need to prove they have invested significantly in a business in order to obtain this visa. You don’t need a job offer for the Exceptional Talent visa, but you need to be certified by specific arts and science societies – these visas are extraordinarily difficult to obtain.

The general working visa is called the Tier 2 General visa. For this, you’ll need the following:

  • A certificate of sponsorship reference number
  • A salary of at least £20,800 or more (with exceptions)
  • Proof of competent English-language skills
  • At least £945 in savings

Employers provide the certificate of sponsorship. Applicants must have a job offer on the table in order to apply for this visa.

  1. European Union

Citizens of any European Union nation can freely work and live in all countries of the EU. However, if you’re not an EU citizen, you can apply for the EU Blue Card, a work and residency permit valid in all EU countries. Applicants require the following to be eligible:

  • A work contract or job offer
  • A prospective salary of at least 1.5 times the national average
  • Higher education, or specialized skills

After two to five years, depending on the country, applicants can apply for permanent residency. In addition, Blue Card holders are part of an online network that connects people and employers. The card grants mobility throughout the EU as well as social benefits.

  1. China

In Mainland China, there is one work visa: the Z Visa. Applicants must have the following:

  • An invitation letter (job offer) from your employer
  • A work license

The applicant’s prospective employers must be approved to employ foreigners, and applicants must meet a “foreign expert” requirement.

The Z visa actually does not allow applicants to work or live in China – rather, it allows you to enter the country for the purpose of taking up a job already offered. When an employer hires a foreign worker, it obtains a work license on the worker’s behalf. On arrival, applicants must obtain a Temporary Resident Permit.

  1. Brazil

Working in Brazil requires the Temporary Work visa (Visto Temporário V), requiring the following:

  • A job offer from a registered Brazilian company
  • A work permit
  • Relevant education and/or work experience for the job

Employers are expected to apply for a work permit for applicants, after which candidates are free to apply for a visa.

Brazilian work visas are issued specifically for a job. To transfer companies, foreign workers must reapply. This visa doesn’t include residency, so foreign workers must apply for a residence permit as well. After two years, applicants are permitted to renew it for another two years, and after that they may apply for a permanent work visa.

Finally a number of countries are known to be friendly to foreign workers. For examples, Canada, the UAE, and Panama have faster or easier visa processes and are worth doing research into during your job search.

Despite the different names and details, most work visas follow the same general pattern of requirements: higher education and a job offer. As a rule of thumb, countries grant visas based on how much of an asset they think an applicant will be to their economy. Applying and researching visas can be tedious, but it’s worth the effort – it’s the first step on the way to living your dream.