Interview: How to get a job in Europe with a non-EU passport?
When you finish school and finally enter university, you rarely think about what will happen after the "four best years of your life." Most are just excited to be over eighteen, out of their parents' house, and having a few years in front of them to figure things out before having to start a full-time job. Considering the ramifications of the university you've selected, the country it is in, and the implications for you as the holder of whichever passport are not top of mind. You likely come face to face with these thoughts in your senior year, when the question of "what are you going to do after you graduate" starts to pop-up in almost every other conversation you have. Many of those who've studied in Europe but don't hold an EU passport start making it their mission to find a way to stay in Europe. There are two main options for such students to consider - continuing their education and going for a Master's or finding an employer willing to sponsor a work visa for them (not the easiest endeavor). Today we'll talk about the latter.
Staying in Europe without an EU passport is not impossible. But the fact that it's "not impossible" doesn't mean it should be this difficult. Regardless, this interview provides a positive outlook because the interviewee managed to stay in Europe despite his Chinese passport. Read on to discover my conversation with Lee - a graduate of École hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL), a citizen of China, and someone who's managed to get a work visa sponsorship in Europe following graduation!
Could you tell us a little bit about your background and share how your passport made it challenging for you to travel?
I grew up in China, mainly in Beijing, so I hold a Chinese passport. However, I did move to the US to get my high school diploma, following which I attended EHL to study hospitality management. Currently, I am working as an analyst in an American real estate company in Prague.
As a Chinese national, going on international travel was a novel idea when I was growing up. We didn't have the habit of going out of China for our trips. Until 11 years old I didn't travel internationally. To do that, you'd have to apply for a visa, prepare a bunch of documents, and sometimes you even needed to show that you speak English. That wasn't very prevalent at the time, so many Chinese people were put off by it. When I finally started to travel outside of China - I always had to check for travel restrictions, make sure I met the requirements, and show financial stability. When you're going with the purpose of tourism and leisure, it's quite a hassle, but even when I applied for a student visa for the US and Switzerland, it took a long time and wasn't the most effortless process.
What was the process of getting a job in Europe? What difficulties did you face, and how did you manage to get a visa sponsorship?
I began the process at the end of the third year of university. I started thinking about jobs and where I wanted to be. So, I had this deep self-reflection period where I contemplated what I wanted. I think that was very important because it helped me work out specific steps. I knew I wanted to combine hospitality and real estate and that I wanted to stay in Europe. I knew it would be hard, but I started researching and applying immediately at the beginning of the final year.
First, I looked for jobs in Switzerland. Mainly management programs, but I honestly tried everything. I managed to get to the interview step with some of them, but in the end, there was no success because they'd all tell me I needed a valid work permit for Switzerland. I was very frustrated by the end of the first semester.
In the second semester, I expanded my scale and started looking at other European countries. I applied to the Netherlands, Germany, and the Czech Republic. With the Czech Republic - it wasn't a country that I mainly aimed for, but I was interested in the company, and one day I saw their job posting on EHL's platform. Fortunately, I had a friend who did an internship there, and she told me that they do sometimes sponsor visas, and she gave me a contact for one of the employees who got visa sponsorship there. I then went on to speak to her, and she told me that, indeed, the company supports 100% of the visa application, and they hire an external agency to help with the whole process. That call was very encouraging for me, so I decided to apply.
Then, I went through with the interview process, and during the last round of interviews, the visa question came up. I told the hiring managers that I'd need visa sponsorship, and to my relief, they said it shouldn't be a problem. So, in the end, I was quite lucky because none of the other jobs in the EU worked out for me.
After an entire year of job search, I had just this one option.
What do you think contributed to your ability to get the visa sponsorship from this employer?
I think it had to do with both - the Czech Republic and company policy. The Czech Republic had fewer requirements than Switzerland, for example. The overarching theme in all these countries is that you have to show that the person you are hiring can't be replaced by an EU national. This rule exists in both countries, but the way the immigration office checks this data is very different.
In Switzerland, it's a very extensive and thorough process. They end up having a comprehensive report in which it's quite hard to prove that someone like you wasn't found in the EU, especially when you're a fresh graduate. But, in the Czech Republic, they just have to show that they posted this job for 30 days, illustrate that few people applied, and explain why they were not suitable for the role. So there are some countries in the EU where the process can be easier than others. For example, in the Netherlands, the process is also relatively easy. There is just a salary threshold, and it's slightly higher than a typical entry-level job. But once you hit the threshold with what you're offered - it can be easier.
In the end, I think what played the largest role was the combination of less restricted immigration laws and the company being very supportive of hiring non-EU nationals.
Why do you want to have freedom of movement with other countries?
When I think about freedom of movement, I immediately think about the labor force. Without these restrictions many countries can be better off and able to find the best talent for their companies. Lots of non-EU countries have great talents: India, China, Russia, and many others. All these countries also have strong cultures, and I think we can always learn fascinating things from people who have different backgrounds. There are great professionals in finance and IT, for example. Without immigration restrictions they'd have more opportunities in the EU or US, and everyone would be more exposed to a variety of cultures, opinions, and innovative ideas.
From the leisure perspective - international travel was going strong before COVID-19 hit, and I am confident it'll return. Before the crisis many travelers were coming from China in particular, and because English is becoming more widespread, people are less wary of the visa application process. With fewer restrictions people worldwide would travel more and that would benefit each country they visit. The GDP would rise as there'd be a direct contribution to the economy. For example, in Prague the majority of the GDP is supported by the travel and tourism industry. It's very beneficial for any destination city and country.
What advice can you give to international graduates seeking employment through visa sponsorship in Europe?
1. Don't give up. Keep applying
I applied to like 73 jobs. Yes, I kept track. It's vital to persevere and try not to get frustrated until you find something. Sometimes you will face rejections, and often companies won't even answer, but keep going.
2. Follow up
Check-in. Sometimes hiring managers forget about you specifically. Don't forget that there are regular people on the other end. For instance, in my current job I applied in February and didn't hear back for two months. I then followed up, and the hiring manager told me they just opened another position for which they considered me. So, I'd never get this job if I didn't follow up. Make sure to keep track of your applications; I recommend an excel document.
3. Use LinkedIn
Build connections, grow your network, check out the company and the people who work there. See who might look like a non-EU national and ask them some questions about the company and its hiring process. Usually, people are more than happy to answer.
4. Always have a backup.
Sometimes people are too fixated on finding a job in Europe, but the reality is it may not work out immediately. Some may have to go back to their countries, but then it happens that they come back to Europe. Some go and work at home for one or two years but then go for a master's in Europe or apply to jobs in the EU again, and because of their gained experience, companies have a better case to prove this person's value. So, don't just focus on Europe; always try to have one or two jobs lined up at home. Building up your experience is essential.
This interview is part of a series on The Freedom of Movement Project. To discover more insights from people affected by the current immigration laws and to learn about the concept of open borders and freedom of movement - stay tuned on our website and let us know in the comments what YOU think about this subject.