There are abundant benefits to doing an LL.M. abroad. The degree can provide the local knowledge and networks that may help secure a job in the country in which you study. For most overseas students, this means working out all the work visa rules and dealing with bureaucracy and red tape. But we’ve done the research on visa rules, so that you don’t have to.
Below you’ll find a list of some of the most popular places to study, along with a general idea of what’s available, in terms of post-LL.M. visa options.
Also, it’s good to keep in mind that, in many countries, even if you’ve received an LL.M. degree and are eligible to apply for a post-study work visa, this does not mean that you can automatically practice law. Many countries have bar exams, and other qualification proceedures, in order to practice law.
No matter what your goals are after your LL.M., please make sure you read up on all the relevant requirements.
United States: “OPT” visa allows for 12 months of work after an LL.M.
The US is home to most of the world’s leading law schools, among them Yale, Stanford and Harvard, so the country attracts a large number of overseas law students each year. Many of them see an LL.M. as a passport to a lucrative job in a prestigious American law firm such as Latham & Watkins, or Cravath, Swaine & Moore.
There are several routes from an LL.M. to the US job market. One of the most travelled paths is the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, also known as an F-1 visa, which grants a graduate 12 months of work time once they leave law school, provided they work in an industry related to their degree.
Once that period is up, most students would apply for a H-1B visa, which if successful would provide work authorization for as many as three years. A student must have a job offer from an employer, with the firm making the H-1B application on behalf of the candidate, who has to supply evidence of a degree from an accredited school, as well as the job offer letter, among other documents.
The process acts like a lottery. There are 85,000 H-1B visas granted each year, with 20,000 reserved for master’s students such as those on LL.M. courses. In 2018, over 199,000 people applied for the visas, or in other words only 43 percent were successful.
The current US administration under president Donald Trump has tightened up H-1B requirements, with several US schools reporting an increase in requests for further evidence or outright visa application declines.
At Berkeley Law School in California, over 90 percent of the LL.M. cohort is from overseas. The majority return to their home countries to practice, but some students remain in the US. Most of them do so through the OPT scheme.
Rachel Zuraw, co-director of LL.M. professional development at Berkeley Law, says: “It is a tough employment market for attorneys in the United States regardless of work authorization, and the requirement to go through the visa process does present an additional hurdle.”
She adds that “many employers are reluctant” to take on securing US work authorization for overseas hires.
Another option for foreign law students is the O-1 visa, which is for exceptionally talented individuals, who have to prove that they have a long track record of global acclaim in their field — for instance elite athletes. The O-1 visa is normally valid for three years.
In addition, there’s a class of E-visas for overseas entrepreneurs who want to establish a business in the US, and another visa for startup investors.
Zuraw adds that the “best route to an employer sponsoring an H1-B visa is to begin working for that employer in another country”.
She says: “Our graduates are very competitive for positions at foreign offices of US law firms and companies. Once they have spent a few years building a US-linked practice, their employer may transfer them to a US office for the short or long term.”
Prospective LL.M. students should additionally note that, in order to practice law in the US, passing a bar exam in the country would be a requirement.
United Kingdom: Tightened visa restrictions for LL.M. grads and others
The UK scrapped its post-study work visa scheme back in 2012 to much outrage in education circles. The scheme allowed students to work in the UK for two years on graduation. With Today, overseas LL.M. students have to secure a job offer from an employer before graduation to secure a Tier 2 visa, and there’s no guarantee of approval.
Schools say that employers loathe the process, since the price of a five-year general visa costs the employer £7,000, and the number of skilled workers that can be admitted from outside the EU is capped at 20,700 per year.
Another option is the Tier 1 graduate entrepreneur visa for business upstarts that lets them stay in the UK for up to a year.
But uncertainty lingers over future UK immigration rules because of Brexit.
Canada: Three-year work visa after an LL.M.
Overseas students on master’s degrees lasting two years are given the automatic right to stay and work in Canada for three years on graduation. There are few restrictions. After that three-year period is up, candidates can apply for permanent residency in Canada.
The country has become increasingly popular among graduate schools thanks to these relaxed immigration laws and an environment that is generally welcoming of foreign talent.
Some 572,415 study permits were issued overall last year, up from just 122,665 in 2000, according to Universities Canada.
And in 2018, 10,950 former study permit holders became permanent residents, which is nearly a four-fold increase on the 3,000 conversions between 2015-17, according to Immigration Department data.
However, as in many other countries, to practice law in Canada, an LL.M. graduate would need to pass a bar exam in the country.
Australia: Temporary graduate work visa for LL.M. grads
Australia, like Canada, has enjoyed an improved reputation on the international stage for its more progressive visa policies that are known to attract foreign graduate students. The Temporary Graduate visa lets graduates work in the country immediately after they complete a course anywhere in the world, should they have the skills that Australia needs, usually for up to 18 months.
The Post-Study Work Stream visa is for those who graduate from Australian schools, and it usually lasts for between two and four years.
New Zealand: post-study work visa for some LL.M. grads
New Zealand also offers a post-study work visa, but only if the study program was at least 60 weeks or more.
Those who are interested in working in New Zealand after an LL.M. should verify that the degrees that they’re interested in include at least 60 weeks of study time.
China: LL.M. grads from many countries can easily apply for a work visa
China is on a mission to enrol 500,000 international students annually by 2020. The Chinese Student Visa (known as an X Visa) is spit into X1 and X2 types.
An X1 visa is for those who study for more than six months at a Chinese school; an LL.M. program is typically one or two years. This post-study visa option valid for up to five years, usually. Students from countries including the UK, Australia, Canada and other EU nations can apply online via the Chinese VISA Application Service Center, while others have to apply in person at a Chinese Consulate.
The processing time is praised by schools: decisions are usually made within a week.
Europe: Each state has its own post-LL.M. visa rules
Each member state has diverging visa rules for graduates from outside the EU.
In France, LL.M. graduates can apply for Autorisation Provisoire de Séjour, a temporary residency permit that lets them work for up to one year while job searching. Once that period expires, or the graduate lands a job, they have to apply for a work permit for the duration of their employment.
In Germany, there’s a progressive regime that is attractive to many LL.M. graduates. Overseas candidates can apply to extend their student visa for up to 18 months to do any job they want. Once they secure a job, they can apply for a residence permit and work indefinitely in Germany.
In Spain, graduates need a job offer from a Spanish company to work in the country after their degree. The company must prove that they were unable to find a suitable job candidate who is from the EU, which can make it difficult for overseas LL.M. students to secure post-graduation work authorization.
In the Netherlands, the visa regime is praised for boosting overseas applications to graduate programs. Students can apply for an “Orientation Year” visa, which lets them stay in the Netherlands for up to a year after they graduate. After that, a good option for high-flying LL.M. graduates is the highly-skilled migrant (kennismigrant) visa, for those who are high earners, which is valid for the duration of employment.