“I no longer feel welcome here”: Asian finance students worried about working in the UK post-Brexit

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Asian finance students in the UK say the fallout from the Brexit vote will make it much more difficult for them to get banking jobs in London when they graduate.

They also say the anti-immigrant sentiment generated by the referendum has already made them feel less “welcome” in Britain and warn it could soon lead to fewer young Asians choosing to study and work in the country.

Campaigners for Britain to leave the EU touted Brexit as an opportunity to strengthened ties between the UK and fast-growing Asian economies. However, the five Asian students we spoke to – all of whom are studying at elite British universities and have interned at major financial institutions – say Brexit has actually made them less likely to stay in the UK.

“In the coming years I expect fewer banking jobs, fewer deals, compromised bonuses, higher tax rates, sliding Sterling and rising living costs – all enough to make staying in London a very unattractive option,” says M&A intern Adrian Choo (we have used pseudonyms throughout this article to protect the students’ identities).

UCL student Terrance Ng says Brexit may have ruined his chances of breaking into investment banking in the City. “Less market access into Europe for the UK means fewer jobs, so I’m now significantly less optimistic about my prospects here, although I’ll have to wait and see what the Brexit negotiations yield.”

Janice Zhang, a final-year finance student in London, says the “economic and political uncertainty” caused by Brexit means she may not bother looking for a graduate job in the UK. “Employees at banks here also face a higher risk of losing their jobs. I’d now prefer to return to Hong Kong to work as Brexit has less impact on Asian job markets. “

The students are also concerned about the anti-immigration rhetoric that dominated much of the EU referendum debate and the string of racially-motivated crimes that have followed the result.

“I feel much less welcome in the UK. Negative sentiment towards foreigners was increasing before the referendum, but it’s heightened now,” says Tracey Liang, an intern at a large asset management firm in London. “My long-term future isn’t here – it’s in Asia.”

“This referendum result has definitely made me feel that the UK is less welcoming towards foreign students. We’re just seen as cash cows,” adds Paul Shen, an intern at a Big Four firm in London. “It’s a shame because most students come here to experience a different culture and gain knowledge in a prestigious university.”

M&A intern Choo says he “still loves the UK” but fears it’s becoming “more xenophobic”.  “So I may consider going back to Hong Kong when I graduate or moving to Singapore or the US.”

Choo says if the UK is perceived as becoming less tolerant towards foreigners generally, fewer Asian students will come to its universities and business schools. London currently has more Chinese students than any city outside China.

“Even if on paper future immigration policies tilt in favour of non-EU immigrants, British universities are bound to suffer a talent drain and their reputation could be compromised. After Brexit the UK is now losing its attractiveness for international corporations and therefore international graduates,” says Choo.

“If I were choosing where to study now, after the Brexit vote, I would go to the US,” says London student Zhang. “The US has many elite business schools, while Brexit has placed the UK’s higher education industry into a period of uncertainty which will affect the ability of its schools to recruit elite students globally. And if there are fewer students coming from EU countries, there’s less diversity, making the UK less attractive to non-EU students too.”

Not all Asian finance students are giving up on Britain. “I’d still choose to further my education in the UK because the training here for a chartered accountant is top notch,” says Big Four intern Shen.

“Brexit will make it more difficult to find work here – fewer jobs and a bias towards non-visa applicants won’t be in my favour,” adds Shen. “But I will still try to compete for a graduate job as working in London is an invaluable experience.”

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