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The State of Post-Graduate Work Opportunities for International Students Across the Big Four (US, Canada, Australia, UK)

When international students study overseas, oftentimes they do not just want to obtain a certificate or degree in their chosen field. Many students also hope to be able to land a well-paying job in their host country after they graduate. 


Students nowadays see post-graduate work opportunities as one of their primary considerations in international education. In this article, we will take a look at the state of post-study work opportunities of the four top study destination countries–the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK.



After graduation, foreign learners in the United States often find employment by engaging in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) which all F-1 visa holders can apply to.


Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a US government program that permits foreign students to participate in some form of employment during or temporarily after the completion of their studies. International students can partake in various types of practical training related to their field of study while they are in the United States.


Types of OPT:

  • Pre-completion OPT takes place before a student’s program end date and can last up to 12 months.
  • Post-completion OPT takes place after a student’s program end date and can also last up to 12 months.
  • STEM OPT is a 24-month extension of OPT for qualifying students with degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) takes place before a student’s program end date and is essential to the school’s established curriculum.
To participate in any form of OPT, an international student must obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

OPT By the Numbers

At present, there are 122,699 pre- and post-completion OPT students with both an employment authorization document (EAD) and who declared working for an employer in the calendar year 2020. Affected by the pandemic as the travel restrictions and longer processing times for OPT applications due to the pandemic made it harder for international students to obtain authorizations, OPT figures saw nearly a 12 percent decline.

What companies employ OPT participants?


The largest OPT employer with 2,813 OPT employees was Amazon, which makes most of its hires under the STEM OPT program. Other technology companies— Google, AZTech Technologies LLC, Deloitte, and Microsoft—fill out the top 5 with more than 1,000 employees each. The Top 100 companies make 18 percent of OPT hires.


Known for its welcoming policies for international students and immigrants, Canada has a comprehensive program that enables foreign learners to gain employment experience after they finish their degree.


Canada’s Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) program allows students who have graduated from eligible Designated Learning Institutions (DLIs) to obtain an open work permit to gain valuable Canadian work experience. Skilled Canadian work experience that is gained through the PGWP helps graduates qualify for permanent residence in Canada through the Canadian experience class within Express Entry.


Students who have completed their program of study are allowed to work while they are waiting for a decision on their post-graduation work permit application, provided they meet all of the following criteria:

  • they are or were holders of a valid study permit at the time of the post-graduation work permit application
  • they were a full-time student enrolled at a DLI in a post-secondary academic, vocational or professional training program
  • they were authorized to work off-campus without a work permit
  • they did not exceed the allowable hours of work

PGWP Statistics

The number of Post-Graduation work permits issued to international students has been consistently increasing since the year 2000. According to the latest data from IRCC, the number of PGWP issued in 2018 is over 143,000 which is 25,300 higher than the year 2016. This trend is likely to continue as Canada continues to attract more international students to integrate into its labor force to fill the gap and resolve the issue of worker shortage due to the aging population. 


International students in Australia are permitted to stay, live, and work in the country temporarily after graduation through the Temporary Graduate Visa program.


The Temporary Graduate visa has two streams, the Graduate Work stream and the Post-Study Work stream:


Graduate Work stream – this is intended for international students who have recently graduated with the skills and qualifications that relate to an occupation on the Skilled Occupations List. Applicants in this stream must have completed a trade qualification, diploma or degree. Successful applicants are granted a visa of 18 months validity.


Post-Study Work stream – for international students who have recently graduated with an Australian Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree, or Doctorate from an Australian educational institution. Successful applicants are granted a two-, three- or four-year duration visa, depending on the highest educational qualification they have obtained. This visa provides eligible graduates with the opportunity to gain practical work experience in Australia following their studies.


Ability to Work and Study

There are no restrictions on the type of work a Temporary Graduate visa holder can do. Temporary Graduate visa holders may work or study in any field, regardless of their background and qualifications. It is the responsibility of the Temporary Graduate visa holder to seek employment if they are granted the visa.

Temporary Graduate Visa Statistics

Source: Australian Government/ Department of Home Affairs

In the 2020-21 program year, lodgements in the Post-Study Work stream increased by 3.1 percent when compared with the same period in the previous program year. Applications lodged in the Graduate Work stream increased by 10.0 percent in the same period. 


Visa grants in the 2020-21 program year to 31 December 2020 stayed steady at 31,646 when compared with the same period in the previous program year.

United Kingdom

Before the introduction of the new Graduate Route, to stay in the UK after their studies, international students generally must switch to another type of visa, usually a work or family visa.


In 2018, around 7,300 non-EU migrants who previously held study visas were granted extensions to stay in the UK to work. This was down 84% from 2011, the year before the post-study work route was closed to new applicants. However, a new post-study work route similar to the previous one is expected to operate for international students starting from the 2020/21 academic year.

Source: Migration Observatory analysis of Home Office Immigration Statistics

Work visa grants to non-EU former students decreased by 84% from 2011 to 2018, before the decision to re-introduce post-study work from Academic Year 2020/21.


Most non-EU students leave the UK after their studies


Study visas are temporary and do not provide a direct route to settlement. Among non-EU migrants issued an initial study visa in 2013, 16% still had valid leave to remain around five years later at the end of 2018. Around 4% (around 6,600) held work visas, 10% (around 16,000) were still on study visas, and 0.1% (around 250) had settled. The remaining 84% had an expired visa. Home Office exit checks data show that at least 98% of non-EU students left on time.

The Good News? The UK opens a New Graduate Route this 2021

Starting July 1, 2021, international students who have completed an undergraduate or master’s degree will be able to benefit from two years of work experience in the UK upon graduation, through the new Graduate Route. Students who complete their Ph.D. will be able to stay for three years.


As the UK opens this new scheme, all the figures relative to post-study work opportunities in the country will see a major change. With more foreign learners bound to benefit from the new program, visa applications are expected to soar this year.  (SUNEETHA QURESHI).


#PartnerForLife #InternationalEducation #InternationalStudents #MSM

Suneetha has more than 10 years of experience in the international education sector. As the Vice President of MSM Global, she leads MSM’s extensive back-of-the-house operations, including MSM’s human resources, financial management, information technology, and marketing, communications, and social media activities. 


She has an impeccable track record of successfully launching the representative offices in Asia and Africa of many North American and European higher education institutions. Her key strengths include hiring, training, and developing teams as evidenced by the successful results of the dedicated in-country college and university client teams.  


Suneetha also has taken the lead in developing several initiatives at MSM, including building robust standard operating procedures, the Rise ‘n Shine team engagement platform, and the organization’s data analytics and audit segments. 



Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 Students. USCIS. (2021, February 26).



Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada. (2020, February 21). Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP).



Pyramid eServices. (n.d.). Rise in Canada’s Post-Graduation Work Permits. Pyramid eServices.



Department of Home Affairs. (n.d.). Temporary Graduate visa (subclass 485). Immigration and citizenship.



Post-study work opportunities. British Council. (n.d.).



International Student Migration to the UK. Migration Observatory. (n.d.).



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