Will International Students be Shut Out by the UK’s Border Policy?
July 25, 2012
The Fresh Outlook
As calls to exclude students from net migration figures are ignored, are changes to UK visa policies deterring international students?
Earlier this year, the government unveiled plans to reduce the number of international students who are given visas by a quarter. This is part of an attempt to reduce the number of immigrants entering the country to the planned ‘tens of thousands’ rather than the 250,000 that cross our borders annually. But is targeting students the right way to address the huge backlog of unknown and untraceable migrants?
This debate was opened again this week after the revelation that the UK Border Agency (UKBA) is currently dealing with – or failing to deal with – a backlog of over 275,000 failed migrants who need to be removed from the country. The home affairs committee brought together to discuss this problem admitted that the government’s current scheme to reduce the number of overseas students allowed into the country would hinder the economy rather than aid it. The current international student market is worth £7.9bn and the UK cannot afford to lose out on the revenue this creates.
This week the home affairs committee recommended that students be excluded from net migration figures. This concept, says committee chairman and Labour MP Keith Vaz, “will enable the government to encourage students to come to the UK whilst maintaining their position on curbing immigration”. However, this plea, backed by many universities, was ignored under the premise that this would merely be “fiddling the figures”.
The UKBA outlined a number of changes to student visas in April. Students who are intending to study at degree level will need to speak English at an ‘upper intermediate’ (B2) level, rather than the original ‘lower intermediate’ (B1) requirement. As well as this, only postgraduate students at universities and government-sponsored students will be able to bring their dependants. Previously, all students on longer courses could bring their dependants. While prior to the changes there was no time limit for study at or above degree level, there is now a limit of three years at lower levels and five years at higher levels. Finally, the Tier 1 (post-study work) route has been closed. This used to allow students two years to seek employment after their course ended. Only graduates who have an offer of a skilled job from a sponsoring employer under Tier 2 of the points-based system will be able to stay to work, one that is guaranteed to provide them with at least £20,000 per annum.
Therefore, is Britain’s place at the stringent end of the spectrum when it comes to student visa policies damaging its reputation as a desirable place of study for international students? Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, blames the “atmospherics” surrounding the changes, rather than the changes themselves, for the backlash of negative press.
In a letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron, Eric Thomas, vice chancellor of Bristol University warned that “the UK seems to be telling the world it doesn’t welcome foreign students”, and that especially “countries like China and India were sensitive to what they saw as new entry barriers”.
The vice chancellor of Aston University in Birmingham, Julia King, confirmed this: “They believe the situation is much friendlier in Australia, the US and Canada — other places where they can learn in English.”
Cardiff University student Md Salauddin Hassan did not encounter any difficulties when applying in Bangladesh to study LLB law four years ago. However, when applying to continue on to a masters in law, Mr Hassan found the process taxing in more ways than one.
“It’s not just the visa application fees that are a problem. In order to apply for an extension from within the UK for a new course you have to show the entire sum of the tuition fees and part of the living expenses for the visa duration in your UK bank account. It’s a bit insulting,” he told The Fresh Outlook.
When asked whether the cuts in numbers and the recent changes in policy would dissuade international students from applying to UK universities, Mr Hassan said:
“I do not think it will have a significant effect on overseas applications when it comes to UK universities in terms of the high rates of fees and maintenance. The majority of the people who come to the UK to study in a university are from well off families. However, having said that, there are some people who wish to come here and are willing to work part time to support themselves in some ways. It is this category of students that the new visa requirements are looking to systematically remove from the UK.”
Mr Hassan did not view the UK as unwelcoming to students as such, saying: “They are more then happy for us to come and spend our money here.”
It is the options that available to students after they have completed their studies which concern Mr Hassan. He told The Fresh Outlook that while the old guidelines “gave [international] graduates an opportunity to run in the race of employment abreast with others”, new measures “put these students at a competitive disadvantage”.
“As the immigration laws now stand the options are very limited. But let’s be honest, here it is not the easiest thing for any fresh graduate to get a job right out of university. It takes time and effort and a lot of painstaking applications.”
However, Mr Hassan believes that students should not be removed from net migration figures. He feels it is the overly strict measures that have been recently introduced to the visa applications that are off-putting to some potential – and current – students.
Regardless of whether students should be included in the net migration figures, isn’t most important thing that those wishing to come to Britain in order to learn are not made to feel rushed or unwelcome due to Britain’s border policy?
By Lucy England
[Image courtesy of SLU Madrid Campus]