As an international student, it took me 3 years to get a job in the UK

In 2010, I came to the UK from Australia (and before that, Malaysia, where I’m originally from) for my undergraduate law degree at King’s College London.

In my first two years, law students like me were advised to go to every single networking event imaginable with big commercial law firms, where the mega-deals and mega-mergers happen, and megalomaniac student egos become magnified. And if you hadn’t secured a Vacation Scheme (typically a 2-week internship) and Training Contract by the end of your 2nd year, you’re basically falling behind.

I went to many of these. Among them were the ‘Magic Circle’ firms, where of course everyone pottered around in their floor-to-ceiling offices, with in-house gym, swimming pool and sleeping pods (note: you will work, live, sleep here, rinse and repeat). I applied like everyone else, and of course, like practically everyone else, I didn’t get anything.

I didn’t think much of it, thinking I’ll eventually get something. After all, the eponymous saying of ‘nothing is impossible’ is not something I thought wrong, given how carelessly it is applied.

But I was totally, utterly, mistaken.

Graduating from King’s College Law School

My LLB was a 4-year course, and I kept trying in my 3rd and 4th years for a Vac Scheme, for anything, and yet… while friends began updating their LinkedIn profiles, ‘starting the Legal Practice Course (LPC)’, I descended into a mopey mess.

Maybe it could be my low 2.1 scores in the previous two years, but how could it be this difficult? I swore to work hard in my final year of law school, and graduated with a First Class average and an Upper Second Class degree overall.

Applied again. Nothing. It was 2014. I started a Masters.


“You couldn’t answer why you didn’t manage to get a Training Contract in 2nd year.”

In late 2015, I completed my MSc at University College London with a Distinction. But still, as I continued applying for jobs and graduate schemes, I fared no better. It was devastating.

Just last week, I attended a final interview with a top-tier law firm after going through 3 stages prior (the whole shebang: written application, online tests, telephone interview) — and then was thrown with odd questions like, ‘Why didn’t you have a Training Contract secured by the time you were in 2rd year?’, like I was incapable of being an overachiever.

Tell me about it, I’m Asian.

The feedback I received was equally confusing. Apparently I had been ‘overconfident’ (because lawyers work in fear and cower at tough situations), and couldn’t justify myself when asked about why I couldn’t find success in getting a Training Contract by the end of the undergraduate degree. Oh, and, being questioned why I had needed an MSc at all.

Hmm… is this because in every legal graduate assessment I’ve been to, the young and eager trainee lawyers (all of whom, are younger than me by the way) are to-tal-ly measured in their composure, don’t have any need for cultural awareness, with blasé being the norm attitude? Ah, that’s why I failed.


Extreme immigration rules for non-EU nationals

Beyond my petulant ramblings on how I didn’t achieve success, are the wicked regulations that truly make me fear for my future. They are the Home Office rules on working in the country as a non-EU national.

First, in order to even get a job, you must be employed and sponsored by a firm who has the license to do so, and above a threshold level of salary. This is currently at £20,800 and there are talks to increase this.

So, basically, I was restricted to heaps of grad programs which are all insanely competitive, because they are the only ones who can sponsor me for a work visa. Hence the law interviews. And we all know, as described, that becoming a lawyer is super easy. And did you know people who don’t have a law degree can also apply? No sweat.

Second, the only way you can (easily) get a graduate job as a non-EU national is if you can pass the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT). Basically, if they can hire anyone else from the UK, then the EU, they must. Here the pool becomes dangerously small, so why would they want your talent despite speaking 5 languages and experience working in both public and private sectors?

So if you’re applying past your Tier 4 student visa expiry (in which case RLMT is mandatory), good luck my friend.

If that isn’t enough to make you drown in your own pool of tears (I nearly did), there’s more.

Only Katie Hopkins is more loved

Have you heard recently? Our biggest fan Mrs May and her pals at the Home Office are imposing a £1,000 levy for every non-EU ‘migrant’ (as we’re affectionately known) a company hires. Yes, because we are filthy roaches (yo Katie Hopkins, respect) and money is needed to build that wall at Dover.

Hand on heart, I do love being a citizen of the Commonwealth of former British colonies.

Fighting an uphill battle

You’ve heard the same story so many times. You’ve heard of Ketsuda Phoutinane who went through the same plight I did, and although my story is just another on the pile of ‘Undeserving Migrant trying to steal British jobs’, it’s still important.

International students like me, and many others, are paying into the economy, both through our education and living costs. And this talent, educated here, is then being forced away because we’re the outsider looking in, because we don’t have the correct passport, we’re told and believe that we don’t deserve a chance, or even given the opportunities to begin with.

More importantly, highly-skilled individuals like doctors and nurses continue to dwindle in number as they seek brighter futures in countries like Australia, where they can more easily meet salary targets and work normal hours.

And even though I’ve managed to stay for now, and consider myself lucky enough to accept a job offer from a firm who’s willing to sponsor me, many others have not been so fortunate.

Only time will tell how the UK will continue to retain its status as an attractive academic destination, if it continues to push its talented graduates away like this.

@cherie_koh

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