Getting a student visa to study abroad can be an excellent way to get a foothold in a foreign country, and can serve as a first step towards getting permanent residence abroad. In this article, we discuss three of the best student visas (Germany, Australia, and Canada) in terms of getting permanent residence, and citizenship, abroad.
There are three key factors that define how useful a student visa is for seeking permanent residence in a foreign country. Firstly, whether you can stay after you graduate to search for a job. Secondly, how long it takes to get permanent residence once you graduate. Thirdly, how long it takes to get citizenship once you graduate (and whether you can hold dual citizenship).
Post-graduation job search
Many countries allow students to stay once they’ve finished their studies to search for jobs, set up a business (or to just live in the country or travel around). Usually, on such post-graduation job search permits, you can take up any job, full-time or part-time, without any skills or income requirement on the job. However, the length of these job search visas varies from country to country, from a few months to up to four years. For instance, the United Kingdom has recently changed its policy so you can stay in the country for two years after graduation to work or look for work, one the longest post-graduation permits in Europe. Switzerland lets graduates stay for six months, as does Denmark. Sweden lets you stay 12 months, as does Portugal, Spain, Austria and Finland. The Netherlands also lets you stay for one year on an orientation permit, though as a bonus you can apply for the orientation permit within three years of graduating (so you could leave and then come back). Ireland lets students with a bachelors stay for 12 months, and students with a postgraduate degree stay for two years. Australia gives two years for bachelors and taught masters, three years for research masters, and four years for PhDs. Czechia lets you stay for nine months.
Route to permanent residence
The second key factor is how you get permanent residence after graduating – that is, how you get the right to indefinitely remain in a country to live and work and travel. How useful the student visa is typically depends on how long you have to have legally resided in a country to get permanent residence, i.e. the residency requirement, and whether student time counts towards that requirement. For many countries in Europe, you have to have lived in a country for five years to get permanent residency (for some countries it’s longer, for some shorter). However, your time as a student doesn’t always count towards the residency requirement, or doesn’t count for full. For instance, in the UK and Netherlands, your time as a student doesn’t count towards the residency requirement at all. For Czechia, Estonia and Spain, your student time counts for half – so, for instance, four years of study would count as two years towards the residency requirement. Some countries, however, offer particular routes to permanent residence. As we’ll discuss below, Germany may let you become a permanent resident just two years after graduating. Austria, on the other hand, doesn’t offer a special student route to permanent residence, but does offer a particular residence permit to graduates, called the Red-White-Red Card for graduates.
The third key factor is the criteria for citizenship, and whether you can have dual citizenship. Most countries require a citizenship test and a language test for citizenship (and for some countries, you can get citizenship quicker if your language skills are particularly good). The residency requirement for citizenship ranges hugely. In Portugal you can become a citizen after five years (and the same length required to become a permanent resident) – and the same is true for Sweden. For many countries, for instance Austria and Spain, the residency requirement is ten years. Denmark is nine years, and Norway is seven. However, if you happen to marry a citizen of the country you’re settling in, the requirement is typically much less. Finally, while most countries let you have dual citizenship, not every country does. For instance, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany do not typically grant dual citizenship.
The German student visa provides an excellent route to permanent residence.
Firstly, Germany allows graduates of German universities to stay for 18 months after graduating to search for work or set up a business (this permit cannot be extended beyond the initial 18 months) (legal citation – (Section 20 para. 3 no. 1 Act on the residence – AufenthG). ). That means you can stay in Germany after graduating without having a job offer. [Source] The permit states that you have to seek a job appropriate for your university degree. However, during your time searching for a job appropriate to your degree, you may take up any employed or self-employed work.
To obtain the residence permit you need to provide:
- Proof of a successfully completed course of studies (i.e. university degree)
- Proof of your health insurance coverage
- Proof of sufficient financial means to cover your costs of living
Once you have a job offer appropriate to your university qualifications you can choose whether to apply for a residence permit for taking up employment or for the EU Blue Card. The best route depends on your particular circumstances and what you plan to do in the future. (Legal citation – Section 18b para. 1 Act on the residence – AufenthG) or an EU Blue Card (Section 18b para. 2 Act on the residence – AufenthG)
The EU Blue Card has advantages if you want to live and work in another EU state in the future.
A huge advantage of studying at a German university is that it provides an excellent route to permanent settlement (those who have completed vocational training in Germany can also take advantage of this route). Graduates from German universities can get permanent residence after two years of employment as a qualified professional. [Source] (Legal citation Section 18c AufenthG (German Residence Act). To obtain permanent residence, you need to have paid contributions to the statutory pension insurance fund for 24 months, and you need knowledge of German at the B1 level. You also need to pass the “Life in Germany” test, which tests knowledge about the German way of life and the legal and social order in Germany. The requirements for settlement are the following:
- You have held a residence permit for the purpose of employment as a “qualified professional” for at least 2 years (Residence permit in accordance with Sections 18a, 18b or 18d AufenthG (German Residence Act)).
- You are employed at a job for which you are qualified or that adequately suit your qualifications.
- You have paid into the statutory pension insurance fund for 24 months.
- You possess sufficient knowledge of the German language (B1 level in accordance with the Common European Framework of References for Languages (CEFR)) as well as knowledge of the legal and social order and of the German way of life. This can be proved by passing the “Life in German” test.
- You can provide proof of adequate living space.
German permanent settlement allows you to stay in Germany for an unlimited length of time. You can also travel freely throughout the EU on a permanent settlement permit. Once you have the permit you can bring family members into Germany to live with you, and you are free to live and work in Germany.
(legal citation all from – Section 10, para. 1 of the Nationality Act – see here
Although you can stay in Germany indefinitely on a settlement permit, you may want to go further and become a German citizen by naturalization. You are eligible for naturalization if you have lived legally in Germany for eight years.
To attain citizenship you need sufficient knowledge of the German language. To show this you should have oral and written German language skills equivalent to level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for languages.
You also need to pass the citizenship test on the legal system, society and living conditions and must declare allegiance to the Germany constitution.
You can actually become a citizen after seven years of living in Germany if you successfully complete an integration course and obtain the certificate issued by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (the time requirement can even be reduced to six years if you can prove you’ve made outstanding efforts at integration, and have knowledge of German beyond the usual requirement of B1).
However, there is one drawback to German citizenship. To naturalize you typically have to renounce your previous citizenship, as Germany does not usually allow dual citizenship for citizens of non-EU countries. [see for exceptions]
Australia also has generous provisions for staying after graduation. After graduating from an Australian university, you can stay for between 2 to 4 years depending on your qualification by applying for the Post-Study Work stream visa. During this time, you are free to travel, search for jobs, work and study in Australia. Moreover, during this time you can travel outside Australia and return as many times you want while the visa is valid. [Source]
How long you can stay after graduation depends on the level of your qualification.
- bachelor degree (including honours): 2 years
- masters by coursework: 2 years
- masters by research: 3 years
- doctoral degree: 4 years
It’s worth noting that Hong Kong passport holders who successfully complete a bachelor, masters or doctoral degree can stay up to five years. Hong Kong passport holders also have a special route to permanent residency if they take this up.
You can also bring your partner and children to live with you in Australia by including them on our application for this visa.
The Post-Study Work stream visa is not renewable. However, while on this visa you can find work that will allow you to stay longer in Australia. There are various different streams for getting a permit to work and live in Australia. Many of these visas require that you are sponsored by your potential employer, but not all of them do. You can find more information on the various streams here.
Having graduated from an Australian university, you’re in a stronger position to apply for Australian permanent residence. Becoming an Australia permanent resident has many advantages. You can remain in Australia indefinitely, and are free to work and study in Australia. You can enrol in Australia’s national health scheme, Medicare, and sponsor eligible relatives for permanent residence.
Another important advantage of Australian permanent residence is that it allows you to freely visit, live, work and study in New Zealand for an indefinite length of time. [Link].
There are multiple streams for getting permanent residence, and each has different requirements, so that we can’t discuss all of them here (you can find more information here). For instance, if you have sufficient work experience, and work in one of the eligible occupations, you can be nominated by your employer to receive Australian permanent residence [see here].
One particularly attractive route for graduates from Australian universities is the Skilled Independent Visa. To qualify for this visa you must have a sufficient number of “points” and your occupation must be on the relevant list of eligible skilled occupations. You need to be invited to apply for this visa by submitting an expression of interest. To be invited you need to be able to score at least 65 points (65 points will not always guarantee an invitation to apply, and so the more points you have the better). The full points table can be found here: https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/getting-a-visa/visa-listing/skilled-independent-189/points-table . Once you’ve studied in Australia, you are likely to already have a lot of points. Firstly, you get 25 points if you are between 18 and 25 years old, 30 points if between 25 and 33, 25 points if between 33 and 40, and 15 points of between 40 and 45. You can then get up to 20 points for being fluent in English. You then also get 15 points for having a Bachelors degree, or 20 points if you have a doctorate. You get five additional points if your degree is from an Australian university, and a further five points if that university was in regional Australia. You can get further points if you’ve graduated with a postgraduate research degree in particular science, technology, engineering, mathematics or specified information and communication technology (ICT) fields. You get further points for having work experience, and more points if that experience was in Australia rather than abroad (there are a few other ways to get additional points as well).
Once you’ve got Australian permanent residence, you could then become an Australian citizen. [https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/citizenship/become-a-citizen/permanent-resident#Eligibility] To become an Australian citizen you must have permanent residence, and have been living in Australia on a valid visa for the past four years. You cannot have been away from Australia for more than 12 months in total in the past 4 years. You cannot have been away from Australia for more than 90 days in total in the past 12 months. You also have to score more than 75% on the Australian citizenship test, which tests knowledge of Australia and its people, Australia’s democratic beliefs, rights and liberties, and government and law in Australia. You need to have knowledge of English to become a citizen, but you can demonstrate this by scoring more than 75% on the citizenship test.
Australia allows dual citizenship, so you can retain the citizenship of your original country (and any other citizenships you hold), as long as that country allows dual citizenship.
Canada has a variety of immigration factors that makes it an excellent option for seeking permanent residence after graduation. Graduates can stay up to three year on a post-graduation work permit, and there are a variety of routes by which graduates from Canadian universities can rapidly acquire permanent residence in Canada (and from there, citizenship).
Firstly, Canada has the post-graduation work permit (PGWP) for graduates of Canadian universities (more precisely, the PGWP is for anyone who has graduated from a designated learning institution (DLI) – see here for the full list: https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/study-canada/study-permit/prepare/designated-learning-institutions-list.html). The PGWP allows you to live and work in Canada after you graduate. You do not need a job offer to get the permit, and the permit allows you to work for any employer in Canada and change employers freely.
How long the PGWP lasts for depends on how long your study program lasted for. To be eligible for the PGWP your program must have been more than eight months. For courses between eight months and two years, you are eligible for a PGWP that’s valid for the same length as your study program. So if your course lasted 15 months, you can get a PGWP for 15 months. If your program was two years of more, then you can get a PGWP that’s valid for three years.
There are a variety of routes for getting permanent residence in Canada, some of which are particular attractive for graduates (see here for more details: https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/study-canada/work/after-graduation.html). Indeed, in theory, one could acquire Canadian permanent residence after working in Canada for only one year. Hence, you could graduate, find an appropriate professional job while on your PGWP, work for one year, and then apply for permanent residence (indeed, if you’ve got sufficient work experience in your home country, you won’t necessarily need to have work experience in Canada at all).
Canadian permanent residence has many advantages. As a permanent resident you can stay in Canada indefinitely, and are free to live, work and study anywhere in Canada. You also get most social benefits that Canadian citizens receive, including health care coverage. However, to keep your permanent resident status, you must be in Canada for at least 730 days each five years, though these 730 days don’t need to be continuous.
A likely route for graduates seeking permanent residence in Canada is through one of the Express Entry Programs. There are three programs in the Canada Express entry system. The three programs are:
- Federal Skilled Worker Program
- Federal Skilled Trades Program
- Canadian Experience Class
In this article we’ll focus on the Canadian Experience Class as an example. It’s worth noting that there are substantial similarities between the Canadian Experience Class and the Federal Skilled Workers Program.
To be eligible for this program you need to first meet some minimum requirements (for more see here: https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/immigrate-canada/express-entry/eligibility/canadian-experience-class.html):
- You need to have sufficient language skills in either French or English (if you have skills in both you’ll be in an even better position).
- You need to have completed one year of skilled work experience in Canada during the past three years (for the Federal Skilled Workers Program, you also need one year of skilled work experience, but it doesn’t have to have been in Canada, which makes it a good route for applicants who have had work experience in another country and then have studied in Canada). The work experience can be full-time or part time, but if it’s part-time it must equal the total amount of time involved in a year’s full-time work.
- The work experience must be skilled according to the particular definition, which means it must be in one of the following Canadian National Occupation Classification (NOC) categories:
- managerial jobs (skill level 0)
- professional jobs (skill type A)
- technical jobs and skilled trades (skill type B)
- You must plan to live outside the province of Quebec (which has its own system for selecting).
- You are not required to have a job offer, though it can get you more points at the next stage (on which, more below).
There are not actually any minimum education requirements for the Canadian Experience Class (for the Federal Skilled Workers Program secondary education is required), however, you will get extra points for post-secondary education, and more if it’s from a Canadian institution.
Meeting the minimum requirements, however, is no guarantee of permanent residence. The Express Entry system is a points system, so that eligible candidates are pooled together regularly, and then the highest scoring candidates are invited to apply for permanent residence. Hence, whether you get permanent residence depends on how many points you have. However, if you’ve graduated from a Canadian university, you will most likely already have a very strong number of points.
The entire points scoring system can be found here: https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/immigrate-canada/express-entry/eligibility/criteria-comprehensive-ranking-system/grid.html
And this tool will allow you calculate the number of points you would have: https://www.cic.gc.ca/english/immigrate/skilled/crs-tool.asp
We won’t go through the entire system in this article, however, we will note a few of the important features.
The points you get include a core set of points up to 600 and a set of additional points of up to 600. Your total score will be out of 1,200.
Core: Up to 600 points
- Skills and experience factors
- Spouse or common-law partner factors, such as their language skills and education
- Skills transferability, including education and work experience
Additional: Up to 600 points
- Canadian degrees, diplomas or certificates
- a valid job offer
- a nomination from a province or territory
- a brother or sister living in Canada who is a citizen or permanent resident
- strong French language skills
Core points + Additional points = your total score
To outline a few features, if you are unmarried and between 20-29 years old, you get 110 points. You get 120 points for a bachelors degree, 135 for a masters and 150 for a PhD. You get additional points for having studied in Canada. Fluency in either English or French can get you up to 136 points. If you speak both French and English you can get an additional 24 points. One year of work experience in Canada gets you 40 points, and the number of points for Canadian work experience increases year on year up till 5+ years. There are then further points available for combinations of language skills, work experience and education.
Permanent residence in Canada has many advantages in itself, but it is also a stepping stone to getting Canadian citizenship. To naturalize as a Canadian citizen, you need to have first got permanent residence. The requirements are the following:
- You must be a permanent resident
- You must have lived in Canada for at least three years (1,095 days) out of the last five years
- You may need to have filed taxes in Canada for at least three years during the last five years before the date you apply.
- You need to have sufficient language skills in either English or French.
- You must pass a citizenship test, which covers your knowledge of your rights, responsibilities, and of Canada. The test is 30 minutes long.
Canada allows dual citizenship, so you can retain the citizenship of your original country (and any other citizenships you hold), as long as that country allows dual citizenship.