In this blog, part of our “If They Can I Can “ series of inspirational stories from international students, we hear from Anastasia Agafanova, Founder of UK Hired a platform for international job seekers and students who are looking for jobs with visa sponsorship in the UK.
As a Tier 1 Startup Visa Holder, Anastasia tells us her start up visa journey, explains the 3-step endorsement process and gives her 6 tips for getting a start-up visa.
Many international students want to stay in the UK after they graduate. Whilst getting a UK visa after you finish your studies is challenging, you may want to think beyond a Tier 2 Visa to the many other routes to settlement in the UK.
Like the Start up Visa. Previously known as the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur)
The Start-up (Tier 1) visa is one of the most attractive options for international students, as it doesn’t require you to secure investment funds for your venture or find a visa sponsor who will hire you. On this visa, you can run your own business and work part-time.
My Start-up Visa Journey
My name is Anastasia Agafonova, I was an international student in the UK for 6 years, and in March 2020, I was endorsed by University College London (UCL) for my start-up visa. Soon after that, I launched my first business venture, UKHired (https://www.ukhired.com).
UKHired is a platform for international job seekers and students who are looking for jobs with visa sponsorship in the UK. Our unique algorithm aggregates vacancies and checks if they pass Tier 2 work visa eligibility criteria.
The idea for this project came to me when I finished my bachelor’s degree, and I knew that I had to find a job once my Master’s degree is completed to remain in the UK. I quickly realised that finding a job with visa sponsorship was exceedingly difficult.
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I learned the hard way that if you are unfamiliar with the legal requirements, you might fall into the trap of applying for many jobs that simply don’t qualify to sponsor international candidates.
Many times I got to the final interview stage only to find out that the company doesn’t sponsor visas or would instead hire a local candidate for the job.
I changed my job search strategy and began learning more about the immigration rules and regulations, checking if my potential employer has a sponsorship licence and look for roles suitable for graduates.
Searching and applying for jobs used to take me around 4-5 hours a day as there were virtually no resources available to simplify this task. The other popular job boards did not have visa sponsorship filters and were not designed for international candidates.
I started thinking about improving the current process and creating a tool that people like me would want. My background in political science and research helped me to examine this issue and the existing market solutions critically.
I realised that the job search problem for foreigners was even more significant than I expected, as it also impacted UK companies who struggled to fill certain vacancies due to a shortage of skilled workers in the UK.
I decided to create a platform that would help to connect international job seekers (both UK graduates and foreign employees) with UK employers.
At the time I was doing MA Political Analysis at UCL and found out about the start-up visa route. UCL was on the endorsing body list, so I decided to apply with my university.
The most important document for your start-up visa is your letter of endorsement from an approved sponsor.
You should demonstrate that your business idea is worth their support.
Your business idea should be:
- Innovative – You should offer a unique product or service that does not already exist on the market. The key thing is that whatever you provide as a solution, it has to be commercialised.
- Viable -Your business should be financially sustainable and should create at least one job.
- Scalable – You should demonstrate that the market for your product is big enough and that there is a potential for growth.
The 3-Steps Endorsement Process
The process varies with different sponsors, but I went through a 3-stage selection process.
- Pitch your idea to the business advisor. I came up with an initial idea and a business plan draft and presented it to the business advisor at UCL. I also talked about how my background prepared me to run this business.
- Submitting a business feasibility plan. This was the most critical and challenging part of the process, as I had to build an MVP, conduct market research, make financial projections and present it in a 10-pages business plan.
- Pitch for the business committee. This was the last stage when I had to prepare a small business presentation about my idea and answered tricky questions of the committee members.
The whole process took around one month, and after that I received my letter of endorsement and applied for the start-up visa. Now, my start-up is a member of the Hatchery, a UCL start-up incubator.
6 Tips for Getting UK Start-up Visa
1) Conduct thorough market research and identify a niche for your product. Make sure that you know who your competitors are and what is your unique selling proposition.
2) Talk to your potential clients to understand what solutions they want to fulfill their needs. Have as many conversations as possible, conduct surveys.
3) Practice pitching your idea to other people and ask them to poke holes in your vision. Use the Mom Test to assess your idea.
4) Utilise your university resources. Most of the universities that can endorse start-up visas offer entrepreneurial workshops and consultations throughout the year. Go to events, learn new skills, and connect with people from the industry.
5) Planning and preparing are essential elements. Start-up business plan is not a simple essay that you can write overnight. You should dedicate at least 3 months to building an MVP and getting your research done.
6) Be passionate about your business idea and believe in yourself. You have to be confident and enthusiastic to convince the endorsing body to sponsor you.
You don’t have to be a business guru or have a degree in business management (although it would help) to get a start-up visa.
All you need to do is to identify a problem that many customers or businesses experience and try to come up with a unique solution that would reflect your vision.
The beauty of a start-up visa is that your university or endorsing body will support you along the way. Being an entrepreneur takes courage and you will have to take a leap of faith, but it will be worth it.
I wish you the best of luck if you decide to pursue this entrepreneurial journey.
If by the end of this blog post you realised that entrepreneurship is not your thing, check out jobs with Tier 2 visa sponsorship on UKHired .