Needle In A Racist Haystack: Job-Hunting in the U.K. for Foreigners

Few experiences have brought me to understand the meaning of the simile “like finding a needle in a haystack” quite as deeply as job-hunting in London as a non-EEA/EU citizen.

Prior to coming abroad for my Master’s programme, I did a bit of research and found that many non-EEA/EU students were leaving the U.K. shortly after their studies because they couldn’t find work. Though I knew this, as a friend of mine who (who is beyond competent, responsible, and intelligent enough to easily find work) had studied for 2 years in Manchester returned jobless and tired from the hunt. Then, within my first 2 weeks at Brunel University, I met a fellow postgraduate from California who had just completed her dissertation and was gearing up to head home for the same reason. And I kept thinking, these are Master’s students for %$@#’s sake- what the hell is making it so hard to find work?

After some time living, experiencing, and reading through the many uncensored sources of media in the U.K., it’s become obvious that the U.K. makes it difficult for foreign nationals to stay intentionally. Up until a few years ago, students could apply for what was called a “Post Study Work Visa”, which was classified as a Tier 1. However, this visa was pulled in order to make way for new legislation for immigration. From here on out, foreign nationals can only stay under the Tier 2 work sponsorship visa. In order to apply for this, companies now must meet a set of criteria, pass the ‘resident labour market test’, fill out a bucket load of bureaucratic paperwork and financially sponsor any and all foreign nationals they hired into their company. In laymen’s terms, this mean that the British government pulled any avenues that made it easier for foreign nationals to find work and started asking British companies to prove that any foreigner they hire is more qualified than any British or EU citizen whom also may have applied for the position.

So now, the U.K. has very cleverly pitted foreign national applicants against the EU and British applicants also hunting in an already extremely tough job market. To make matters worse, in my experience EU members are finding it quite difficult themselves to find jobs as non-EU members. Many of my EU compadres from uni have been applying since May and have put out between 500-700 applications with only a handful of interviews; only a few of these friends have managed to find permanent work. Of the many postgraduates hunting for work, the first to score a permanent position was home-grown British. And good ol’ GB is starting to get a global reputation for her lack of empathy, as this could explain the significant drop in Tier 4 student visa applicants from non-EU and non-EEA citizens in recent years. But while students are suffering from investing tens of thousands of pounds into a British degree without reaping any benefits from the British workforce, we are small pawns in the grand scheme of the British worker’s war. One that makes the struggles of a U.S. student with an accessible job market to return to seem pretty minor.

Since the economic collapse that echoed around the globe, the U.K. has taken several measures towards ensuring “British Jobs for British Workers.” UKIP, one of the nation’s most notoriously conservative and patriotic parties, has led the march behind excluding non-British citizens from the increasingly tough job market. As countries like Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Italy, and Spain have endured some of the most devastating effects of this collapse in the European Union, workers have begun to migrate to the U.K. While many of these workers come in search for opportunity, they are instead welcomed with bitterness and blatant rejection. When asked to comment on the fact that Bulgarians and Romanians make up over 25% of the city’s increasing population of “rough sleepers”, UKIP’s spokeswoman simply replied that:

“This is surely proof that unrestricted immigration is forcing upon Britain migrants we would be much better without. It makes absolutely no sense for people from countries with some of the cheapest housing in Europe to come to a country with some of the most expensive and end up living on the streets as a result. It is clear that we need a comprehensive points-based immigration system that allows into Britain only those who make a net contribution to our society and who have the skills required for a job.”

In other words, rather than help our fellow Europeans and their countries let’s just shut and their problems out of the country so we don’t suffer with them. What’s even more upsetting about this quote is the hypocrisy is that despite wanting to keep ‘those who make a net contribution,’ they won’t even help the international students who have invested in British education enter the workforce. The proof is in the pudding that [not-so]Great Britain is a racist @$$ country – the very same party that claims European workers are the problem has paid foreign workers to distribute their party’s leaflets as they claim “[their labour is] the cheapest.

While there are loopholes for non-EEA and non-EU citizens, such as the Tier 2 work sponsored visa or even the Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneurial Visa (for those of your who have been itching to start up a business), the hidden fine print makes these visas both expensive and extremely difficult to get. To sum things up, job-hunting for foreign nationals (and even for EU citizens) in the U.K. is very much like finding a needle in a haystack. Only the haystack is made systemically impenetrable for those who are not British, and those who are are given protection while they search.



  1. Sam · November 23, 2014

    I agree, my time in the UK as an Australian citizen was plagued with immigration issues. I too have returned home, and luckily after some research realised I was eligible for Polish citizenship, which I have pursued. It seems to be that unless you are married or in a long term relationship with someone, as a non EEA/EU citizen it’s virtually impossible to stay in the UK!

    • An American Grad In London · November 23, 2014

      Yeah, it seems like the work and permanent residence visas are a bit easier to find in other EU countries as well.. if you have any tips to share please do!!

  2. Onur · January 3, 2015

    Hi Kelly;

    its a good opportunity to read your experiences but unfortunately it is sad to see that its gettig very very hard to stay in UK after spending some much time, effort and money to British education system. i am from Canada and accepted into Brunel University Bussiness School MiM programme. i would like to hear more about your job hunting experiences and in general of other people’s if possible for example how much experiences you had before you started studying, any interviews etc. i have myself solid 10+ years Project\Design engineerig experience from Canada but job market also bad here and its very hard to move up in management positions. Thats why i chose to take Msc Management with internship thinking some work experience would be helpful.



  3. Pingback: The Transition: Like a bad ex-lover, it always shows up | An American Grad in London

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