I just completed my undergraduate BSc degree in Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics in my home country (South Africa). I am continuing my studies next year and starting my postgraduate studies (Honours Degree and Masters Degree) in the same country.

My long term goal, however, is to complete my PhD and remain in academics (lecturing, doing research etc). My wish, is to complete my PhD studies abroad (my thoughts are between countries such as Germany, UK or France). I know that it is possible for me to go over and do my PhD, however, I would wish to remain in the country and work in academia there on a permanent basis.

Is this at all possible? And if so, how likely is it that I will be able to get a permanent job in academics in one of those countries? Would I be able to obtain a "working permit" ?

As a side note: I do not currently have any form of dual citizenship or ancestry in the above mentioned countries

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    To my knowledge, people with academic appointments rarely have their residence permit applications rejected. It seems pretty clear that getting a permanent university position is hard than getting the visa required to take it up.
    – Louis
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 10:14
  • I voted to close this question as too broad / opinion-based. All countries you mentioned have multiple opportunities / residence permit types (e.g., for work if you get a contract as research assistant or for study if you get a scholarship) you can apply and multiple ways of getting permanent residence / citizenship, as well as different limitations (e.g., to get German citizenship in the future, you need to cancel all others). You need to research residence permits types and other conditions on yourself and come back with more specific questions. Commented Jan 25, 2021 at 11:54

1 Answer 1


I'm in this situation now, so I'll tell you what I know.

In France in particular, you are eligible to apply for French citizenship if you fluently speak French and can pass a test after 5 years of living in France. However, for people who do Masters or PhD in France, this time period is reduced to 2 years (meaning you could apply in the second year of your PhD). However this is misleading; you also need to submit evidence of 3 French tax returns (which happen once per year) meaning you will actually only be able to apply in your third year in the country (bearing in mind that the PhD only lasts 3 years). It is possible to extend your Scientific Researcher visa for a postdoctoral position.

However, the tricky part about academia is that it's generally expected that you will work in several institutions for postdocs before settling down into a 'permanent' (not permanent) academic position, which may well mean moving countries, which will reset the 'residence' timer for citizenship. See the problem?

So, your best bet would be to do a PhD in a country which offers a similar citizenship pipeline (Germany, for example, will let you extend your stay to find employment, as will France), and then do your first and perhaps even second postdoc in that country. But given the job market in your field and in academia in general, this may be difficult or even impossible.

The laws are different in every country. For example, Switzerland has a 12 year residency requirement, which isn't compatible with many academic career timelines unless you never leave Switzerland. The UK is also making it exceedingly difficult for any non-European to live there, via a recent initiative requiring that any non-EEA resident make at least £36000 per year, or they'll be deported.

But yes, your position is a common one. And I'm in it too. My "solution" is that I am trying get Portuguese citizenship via Ancestry (Portuguese grandfather), which is both costly and time-consuming. Examine your family tree and see if perhaps you're eligible for anything similar based on the heritage of your parents or grandparents.

  • The 36k UK rule should not be too big a hurdle. It only applies to non-sponsored visas, so after 5 years as a post doc. The starting salary of lecturers is generally in the 35-36k range. That said, given the current trends, trying to predict UK immigration laws 8+ years out is scary.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 0:22
  • That's good to know. I thought this was EVERYONE, even sponsored people. However the usual rules still apply for postdocs, do they not? e.g. I can only be hired for the postdoc if not a single other person in the EU is eligible. At this point, since the UK seems so hellbent on leaving the EU, it seems wiser to stay out. I like Europe, and EU citizenship seems the way forward. (Although, given the choice between returning home and taking a postdoc in the UK, even if it won't contribute toward UK citizenship, of course I'd take it in a second!) Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 7:07

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