First Hand — Ivyy Chen on her journey from international student to securing a working visa
We often receive questions from international students about how to stay on and and work in the UK. It might be: How do you get a visa, and which one do I need? Where do I find the right information? To get some answers, we’ve spoken to a range of people who have gone through the experience themselves, starting with Ivyy Chen who, after studying animation in Taiwan, went on to do a year abroad at Kingston University. While she had only anticipated staying for a year, she soon set her sights on launching a career in the UK. After navigating a tricky path, she’s now working as an animator at design studio, Scriberia. She reflects back on her experience as an international student, and the journey it took to get to this point.
Coming to the UK
I started studying animation at the National Taiwan University of Arts back home for three years. In the final year, I went on an exchange programme at Kingston University. I never planned to stay for long, but it was really a life-changing decision, as I was so inspired by the environment, tutors and peers – and the way that people see art. The students were always so passionate about their art and what they wanted to do, and it was here that I started having the idea of working in the UK.
My time was limited
My visa ended a month after my graduation. I didn’t have much hope for staying on, but before I graduated I sent out as many emails as possible for both full-time work and internships, and ended up interning at Blink Ink and then Nexus while I was studying.
These were both invaluable experiences, but I still needed to leave the UK after the internship was completed. Most of the studios only hire 2D animators for freelance and not full-time work, and unfortunately this doesn’t meet the criteria for a work visa.
I kept myself busy
After I graduated, I went back to Taiwan for a year and finished the degree that I started there. During that year I just kept myself busy, working on freelance and personal projects, and also made another graduation film. I made sure I kept sharing my work as much as I could, both on my Instagram and through other social media.
Landing a job, via a wedding
While I was still living in Taiwan, I visited London for a friend’s wedding, and saw lots of friends from Kingston. Through talking to a friend on the day, I was recommended talking to London-based design studio Scriberia, and quite unexpectedly ended up getting a job interview there. Scriberia do a lot of graphic facility and illustration, but they also work with many NGO and researchers to produce lovely animations.
I went to meet them with my latest showreel and the portfolio I had been preparing during the summer. After the interview, I was soon offered a job. However, Scriberia didn’t have anyone else in the studio who needed a visa, so I had to explain to them how it all worked. The paperwork isn’t complicated, but it does take time to complete, plus there are some fees attached – that’s why it’s so terrifying to everyone. Not all companies are familiar with the process, so I would advise anyone in a similar position to be prepared and do some research, as it will definitely be helpful.
After further discussion, Scriberia offered me a six-month contract under the Tier 5 (T5) Government Authorised Scheme. Then, three months later, they decided to apply for a sponsorship for the longterm Tier 2 (T2) work visa, to keep me on.
It’s a tedious process divided into two stages: First they needed a sponsor license. Then they applied for a Certificate of Sponsorship for the visa. It’s worth noting that it’s also a lot easier to go from T4 student visa to a T2 or T5 – so I would definitely recommend that students to try to get this before they graduate.
“Although there was a lot of pressure and anxiety going on during this journey, I didn’t want to give up on trying to make it work.”
I didn’t want to regret not trying
Although there was a lot of pressure and anxiety going on during this journey, I tried my best at every occasion, as I didn’t want to give up on trying to make it work.
Most Asian students are quite shy – and in class I also didn’t talk much and really wasn’t very confident to begin with. I was afraid of making mistakes. But the longer I stayed in the UK, the more I saw how opportunities were given to people who were more confident or more persuasive.
Towards the end of being at Kingston, I learnt to adopt more of a don’t-give-a-damn attitude, as I didn’t want to regret feeling like I missed any chances. I just trained myself to change my thinking, and ‘fake it ’til you make it’ became one of my mottos.
“I really wasn’t very confident to begin with... [But] I learnt to adopt more of a don’t-give-a-damn attitude.”
This process is tricky for everyone
It’s totally normal if you feel alone or lonely on this path. I didn’t meet anyone with the same visa needs as me in this time, or even anyone who had managed to get one. Most of my information came from Google, along with some resources that I found particularly useful, including a website called Immigration Boards, where people who need a visa share their experiences.
On the Home Office website, there is also a list of all the companies that are able to issue a certificate of sponsorship. You can find most of the visa information you need on that website, but they have over 200 pages of immigration regulation information, and it would drive me crazy every time I would read through it.
Work created while at Scriberia
Look for a job, not a visa
I totally empathise with the anxiety and worries international students go through, and I definitely don’t see staying on in the UK as the only option for graduates.
I also understand that a lot of students go straight after a visa once they graduate, but I personally think finding a job you enjoy and like is way more important than finding a way to stay. To be bound by a place under longterm contract is a huge commitment. It should definitely be a place where you can grow, learn and enjoy yourself.
The company I now work at, Scriberia, wasn’t initially on the list of sponsor companies, and I’m really thankful for them going through the whole process in order to work with me. And, of course, my friends and family who always supported me and helped me the whole way. So my thoughts for others who are in the position I was in, is that even if it’s not a sponsored company, there might be room to negotiate a visa if you show your skills, talent and enthusiasm.
More importantly, staying is great, but trust me, leaving is not as bad as you think if you manage to find the right place for you. The year I went back in Taiwan right after Kingston, I also met a lot of amazing, very talented people in a co-working space, Planett.
Ivyy’s illustration for Taiwan’s National Day
One journey ends, another begins
This was an eight-month journey in total, and I fought for the whole way. Finally I am now back in the UK and working as a lead animator at Scriberia under a Tier 2 visa, and I am just about to start the next phase of my journey here.
I know my life would have been so different if I hadn’t pushed for it, or didn’t have enough faith in myself. As much as I don’t regret any of the decisions I made, I also understand that the same path would not work for everyone.
To me, the key is to find what your true desire is, and fight for it. Whether you want to stay or go back, don’t forget to keep working hard, creating beautiful work and enjoying every wonderful moment of it.