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How to get an international study visa for your masters degree

Katie Schenk - October 29, 2019

How to get your international study visa to get your master's degree

If you’re planning to pursue your masters overseas, you’ve got plenty to do - and obtaining your study visa is one of the biggest administrative tasks ahead of you.

Every country has their own set of requirements for entry - and for staying on to look for a job after graduation. Career opportunities in your host country (or region) may be one of the reasons you’ve chosen to apply to certain programmes. Or, you may still be narrowing your shortlist and want an idea of the possibilities.

No matter where you plan to study or the visa requirements for that country, you should expect to have:

Keep in mind that we’ve only included a few specific documents required and this is by no means a complete list of all the documents and procedures. 

As some countries require specific forms from nationals of different countries, this isn't a comprehensive list. It's intended to be a resource to get you started.

United States: F-1 student visa

Under the current administration, there have been and will be more changes to immigration laws in the US. Some of the changes impact international master's students, but that doesn't mean you should give up on your American education dreams - only that you'll need to fully understand the visa process before you begin.

US F-1 student visa application procedure

Anyone applying for the F-1 student visa to the United States must have already been admitted to an SEVP-approved institution (as all Prodigy Finance supported programmes are). Accompanying spouses or children will need to apply for an F-2 visa. Only citizens of Canada and Bermuda are exempt from the requirement of this visa class (however, citizens of these countries must still present their I-20 form upon entry).

To apply for an F-1 (and the F-2 visas, if applicable), you must have received an I-20 Form from your university. This document outlines the cost of attendance (as provided by the university) and shows your financial ability to meet this figure. The I-20 Form won't be issued by your programme until you can prove financing. Additionally, you'll need to complete the DS-160 Form online and pay the relevant processing fees.

You'll have a visa interview at your nearest US embassy or consulate and it's critical that you demonstrate your desire to return to your home country after graduation. 

F-1 student visas can be issued up to 120 days prior to the course start date, but you'll only be able to enter the US within 30 days of that start date. Provided you have all your documentation in order, you should apply as soon as possible within these parameters.

Visas to study in the US are issued according to the length of study; if you pursue a 1-year programme, you will receive a 1-year visa. 

Arriving in the US on an F-1 study visa

You must have your F-1 visa in your passport, along with your I-20 form and other supporting documentation, when entering the US. 

And, you should know that a visa doesn’t guarantee entry; US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers retain the right to deny admission (yes, even if you have a visa). Be sure to check current procedures before your departure.

US work visas for master's graduates

After graduation, many students are eligible to apply for F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorisation for an additional 12 months (after which STEM degree students may apply for an additional 24-month extension). You must apply up to 90 days before and 60 days after the program end date on your I-20.

If you receive an offer from a US company, they'll apply for an H1-B visa for you. Limited numbers of these visas are issued annually on a lottery basis. 

Canada: Study Permit

As an international master's student in Canada, you'll need a Study Permit. Very few international students qualify for a Study Permit exemption - and they apply only to certain groups of people, not nationalities as a whole.

Each nationality requires its own set of documents, but the Government of Canada does a terrific job of explaining what is required.

Applying for your Canadian Study Permit

To apply for your Study Permit, you will need an acceptance letter from a Designated Learning Institution (DLI). (Additionally, if you plan to study in Quebec, you also need a Certificat d’acceptation du Québec, English and French translations for your document, a statement from the translator and a certified copy of the original documents.)

Canadian Study Visas can take as long as two months to secure (though, again, the government offers a time indication based on the country of origin). These visas expire 90 days after graduation or completion of the course.

Work permits for master's grads in Canada

It’s important to note that you must apply for a work permit if an internship is required as part of your study. 

However, you can apply for a Work Permit within 90 days of receiving written confirmation that you have completed and passed the requirements of your degree. This provides you with a visa to search and apply for work for a length of time equal to the length of study. 

Rotman graduates are eligible for a 3-year work permit. And, once you’ve secure a full-time position, you and your employer may apply for extensions as necessary.

United Kingdom: Tier 4 visa

As the UK works to divorce itself from the EU, it is likely that visa processes will change over time

Applying for your Tier 4 UK study visa

Currently, students from the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland are exempt from obtaining a study visa for the United Kingdom. To secure residency rights, you'll need valid health insurance and too register as a resident

All other nationalities will need to apply for a Tier 4 visaUsually this is valid for the duration of your study as outlined by the university. 

You'll receive a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) number from your programme - and you can't apply for your visa without this. You must, however, apply for your Tier 4 Vvsa no later than 6 months after receiving your CAS number and no more than 3 months before your course begins. 

Typically, visa decisions are made within three weeks, however, you should check processing times if you’re cutting it close.

Working in the UK after your master's degree

If you’re hoping to remain in the UK after graduation, you'll apply for a Tier 2 visa which is valid for 6 months (or until your employer becomes your sponsor). You will need to demonstrate that your skills don’t compete with UK, EEA, or Swiss nationals. Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visas are also available to those establishing a business, though there are strict criteria.

France: VLT-TS (visa long séjour valant titre de séjour "étudiant")

Outside of the EEA and Switzerland (along with a few former colonies, such as Algeria), you'll apply for a Visa de long séjour etudes (long-stay visa) which includes the residency visa (VLT-TS) and you will need a official enrolment or acceptance letter from your university before application.

As with many European countries, the visa process is 2-part. Initially, you'll apply for a visa at your nearest embassy or consulate and ensure your visa interview is scheduled at least 90 days prior to your departure. 

Visa processing can take as little as a week or two, provided everything is in order. In addition to your visa, you will receive instructions for residency registration with the French Office of Immigration and Integration (OFII).

On arrival in France, VLS-TS Visa holders must send the form provided by the consulate to OFII - though you should confirm this with your university as some will do this for you. Upon registration, you're eligible for part-time work during your studies.

After graduation, you may apply for an Autorisation provisoire de séjour (APS) which allows for part-time work and the right to remain in France for 1 year. You must find a job offering 1.5 times the current minimum wage to remain in the country. Applications for extended work permits and residence are done at the local préfecture. 

Spain: Visado de Estudios

The process for Spanish student visas (visado de estudios) is similar to that of France. Outside of the EEA or Switzerland, you'll apply for your visa at your local consulate. Do this as soon as possible as it can take several weeks (up to 2 months) for issuance.

To apply for your student visa, you'll need your acceptance letter and registration of the programme with the Ministerio de Educación de España. 

Once you've arrived in Spain, you have 30 days to apply for your student residence permit. This is done at the local Foreigners Office (Oficina de Extranjeros) or police station.

To remain in Spain after graduation, you'll need an accepted job offer as it's your employer’s responsibility to apply for your visado de trabajo y residencia on your behalf.

Germany: Visum zu Studienzwecken

And, as with other European countries, you don't need a German study visa if you’re a citizen of the EEA or Switzerland. 

And, students that don’t normally need a visa to visit Germany for 90 days (such as Schengen visa holders), can apply for their study visa after arrival in the country (though it’s really not recommended). 

Otherwise, you'll apply for your Visum zu Studienzwecken at your nearest embassy or consulate which allows you to enter the country for study. There’s no predefined time to apply for this visa, but you should allow 3 months, if possible. 

On arrival, you must register at the local Alien Registration Office within 90 days of arrival (but, really, as soon as possible). There, you'll receive an Aufenthaltsgenehmigung which enables you to remain in the country.

Your visa will end along with your studies, but you'll be eligible to apply for an 18-month extension to work in Germany, during which you can do any job you can secure. However, you'll need to get a position that corresponds to your qualifications to remain in Germany after that time. 

Once you’ve accepted a permanent offer, you'll apply for either a German Resident Permit or an EU Blue Card. Both have specific conditions attached and your employer should guide you as to the best choice for your situation.

Switzerland: Study Visa + Permit B

If you plan to study in Switzerland, you'll follow the same general procedures as Germany and France. 

However, once you have been issued your study visa from the embassy or consulate and have entered the country, you have 14 days after your arrival to apply for a Permit B, a biometric card valid for 1-year. If your course is longer, the card is renewable. Applications are submitted in your university's canton

On graduation, you can apply for a 6-month residency permit to look for a permanent job and you may work 15 hours per week during this time - but you can't renew this permit. 

You'll be treated the same as Swiss and EU nationals when you graduate from a Swiss university - but you won’t get a work permit if your employer cannot prove the economic or scientific importance of your position.

Italy: Study Visa

You’ll apply for an Italian study visa at the nearest embassy or consulate if you’re not an EEA or Swiss national. 

Schedule your interview about 90 days before your programme begins; spots fill quickly - so don’t leave it too long. Visa processing takes as long as 3 weeks. To apply, you’ll need an acceptance letter from your university and proof of funding.

On arrival in Italy, register with the local police within 8 days (which is quite short compared to other European regulations). 

Upon graduation, you may apply for a Permesso di Soggiorno visa to look for work. These typically last 6 to 12 months and you must leave if you’ve not secured a position during this time. 

Should you accept an offer from an Italian employer, the company will apply on your behalf and you should note that it will be specific to your position. If there’s any change in your position - even if you remain with the same company - it must be reported to the local Sportello Unico per l’Immigrazione.

The Netherlands: MVV + TEV Visas

The Netherlands offers a very different process from most European immigration systems - your university applies for your student visa (MVV) and your resident visa (TEV) on your behalf. 

Every university has their own set of requirements, so you must check with the international student office as soon as you accept your seat in a programme. During your studies, you can work up to 10 hours per week and your employer must have a TWV permit for you.

After you complete your degree, you have the option of applying for an Orientation Year Permit which gives you 1 year to look for work in the country. You can take this option at any point within 3 years of graduation (though you will have had to leave the country when your initial study visa expired unless you apply straight away.) 

Once you've secured Dutch employment, your employer will apply for a work permit on your behalf.

Singapore: Student Pass

When you’re admitted to a university in Singapore, you receive an in-principle approval for a visa. Once you have this in hand, you'll apply for a Student Pass

Applications for this visa must be done between 1 and 2 months prior to the start of your course. And, it's done through the Student’s Pass Online Application & Registration (SOLAR) system. You’ll also need to complete eForm 16 - the printed copy of which must be submitted to the Student Pass unit - Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA).

To remain in the country after graduation, you must have an offer from a company in Singapore to remain. Your Employment Pass will have requirements tied to your salary and qualifications - and each application is assessed on its own merits. Graduates from top universities in Singapore are more likely to be given preference for this visa - and your employer is responsible for application.

General tips for securing international student visas

Wherever you study as an international student, keep in mind that the international office is there to help you jump through immigration hoops

Ask them any questions you have about the visa application process, including the language you'll be expected to speak at during your visa interview. 

When submitting your visa application, ensure you include everything requested by the embassy or consulate - they won't accept partial submissions, and you may find yourself denied before you've completed your student visa application. 

The US makes it clear that they offer international student visas to students planning to return home after their studies, and you can assume that most countries have similar aims.

Bring all relevant paperwork with you to your student visa interview, including undergrad transcripts, demonstration of property ownership, your CV, acceptance letters, and proof of financing for your degree

You must be able to demonstrate your desire and reasons to return home after graduation to secure a student visa.

This doesn't mean that you can't participate in recruitment or accept a position in your host country. But it shouldn't be a stated intention during your interview or within your application.

Want to know how to fund your masters abroad?

Prodigy Finance provides loans to international students pursuing their masters at top schools across the globe.

Prodigy Finance Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. 

Post updated for accuracy and freshness on October 29, 2019. Originally published on May 16, 2017.

The purpose of this guide is to provide prospective students with an overview of the application process for student visas and should not be regarded as legal or immigration advice or as a substitute for the official information published by immigration departments or ministries. Whilst we have carefully compiled the guide in accordance with the information published by relevant agencies, Prodigy Finance Limited does not accept liability for any inaccuracies, mistakes, omissions or outdated information in the guide and we encourage prospective students and other readers to consult immigration agencies for the country they wish to study in.

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