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Living with someone on the hunt for a work visa

In the year ending March 2021, there were 37% fewer work-related visas granted than the previous year, reflecting the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. What is it really like for those looking for a work visa?

In the journalism sector, which has already dramatically shrunk in the past decade, many visa-dependent graduates have faced a strenuous journey to employment.

I didn’t know how privileged I was until I met someone who faced deportation the moment he graduated from university. It sounded crazy to me – that you could study so hard for three years, achieving the highest of grades, but struggle to get hired because of your nationality.

Anay has entered his tenth week of job hunting. Sitting across from me, as I plod on with a job I secured a month before I even graduated, he sends in his one-hundred-and-something application, hoping this might just be the one.

The hunt has been long and brutal. While some of his applications don’t get a reply or are immediately rejected, those aren’t the ones that hurt. The ones that reach the final stage, the ones that I’ve seen raise his hopes and charge him with energy, only to then rip him to pieces – those are the nasty ones.

Every time, there comes a moment where he must convince a stranger that he is worth more than John or Sally. They need to be guaranteed that sponsoring his work visa and waiting for the government to process it will ‘all be worth it’.

The UK’s Skilled Worker Visa allows citizens from outside the country to live and work in Britain, with an eligible employer. To hire someone and sponsor them, however, businesses need a license, the will to spend a little more money on their employee, and to wait for a visa to get processed by the government – which can take up to three months.

To apply for a job that sponsors a visa, you not only need to go through all the usual job application steps, but you also need to make sure it pays your city’s minimum salary and that it is in the same sector that you qualified in.

Sadly, that hasn’t happened yet. In Anay’s experience, even the organisations with the big bucks don’t think a first-class journalism graduate is worth waiting a little longer and paying a little more for.

Unlike me and many of our friends, Anay grew up in Jodhpur, India. He dreamt of moving to London, attending university, getting his dream degree, and launching his dream career in journalism.

And unlike me, it’s not as easy as having the money and support, putting in the hard work and getting the right grades. When Anay graduated, he had three months to secure a job in the UK or he would face having to return to his home country.

The job market for journalism has been through a lot in the recent decade. And by 2026, this market will shrink by a further 10.1% globally. Anay finished his degree during the first lockdown in May 2020, meaning he graduated straight into one of the worst job markets any industry has seen, let alone the journalism sector.

Possibly the worst part about the process isn’t just the fear of unemployment, or the fear of getting told to leave the country – it’s having to maintain employment for five years straight, even if it’s something you hate, just so you can get permanent leave to remain. After working for five years, you no longer need to be dependent on a visa.

Last year, Anay was employed for a while. In fact, within the first month of finishing his degree, he managed to convince a vegan magazine start-up to hire him as its full-time editor and write news and features every day. All just to stay in the UK.

So, he worked there for a year. While being an editor wasn’t exactly what he’d expected to be doing immediately after graduation, it meant staying put. It meant not having to give up on his dreams.

Unfortunately, after months of the magazine haemorrhaging money, Anay was reluctantly let go.

Despite being paid the minimum salary and working harder than he’d ever worked in his life, poor economic decisions outside of his control meant he was made redundant.

In the beginning of the job search, the prospects didn’t look so bad. Anay was going into it with a year’s worth of editing up his sleeve, in a niche market, and one that is to soar by 451% in the next nine years.

Three months down the line, we both go to bed thanking our blessings that he hasn’t been ordered home yet. Every morning I watch as he tries to set an agenda for the day, filled with positivity and promises, but one that also distracts him from the immigration letter that commands his future.

It’s no fun, of course, watching from the side-lines. Knowing that I’ve done all I can to help with the process, yet I am as helpless as a broken umbrella in the middle of a storm.

At the same time though, on the few days that Anay has lost all hope, or hit ‘the wall’, my hopelessness will only make him want to accept defeat more.

He’s turned to me so many times, wishing that he had applied for a master’s degree, or wishing that the law meant he could live off a visa as a barista.

‘I’d do anything if it meant staying in London to pursue my dream career,’ he says.

I sigh and tell him: ‘I know,’ but the rules are the way they are, and after Brexit and the looming migrant crisis this winter, I’m not sure they’re going to be changing any time soon.

For now, we just have to keep searching for the people who might be different from the rest, who might be willing to spare some kindness and take a leap of faith with Anay. We know they’re out there somewhere.


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