A raft of legislative changes is now proposed to counter the ‘problem’ of international students in the UK. One of the key proposed changes is the bolition of Tier 1 Post-Study visas. UKBA is currently conducting consultations in respect of these proposed changes.
This visa currently enables the limited number of students who qualify to stay for two years after their study to work. For most international students, this is a time to gain some international work experience before returning to their home countries. The Post-Study visa cannot be extended beyond the two years, so after the time is up, the visa expires and unless you qualify for another category of visa (employer sponsored, highly skilled or some other family related visa), you have to leave. And most do. They take what they’ve learned back to their home countries, often benefiting the UK by setting up business and political relationships, trade deals and innovative collaborations. And during the two years that they work in the UK, they pay taxes, contribute to the British economy through their consumption and investments, enrich the British society culturally and do all this without ever having recourse to public funds.
It might come as a surprise to some that the UK is not the first choice destination for most international students – particularly those from China, India and Pakistan. (And let’s be honest here, the UKBA is not worried about students from Australia and Canada settling – those caught in the changes are ‘collateral damage’, and they tend to have more avenues for migration. At the heart of this is something dubiously close to racism.) The costs here are prohibitively expensive: only the children of the wealthiest elites or the brightest who are funded by scholarships can afford to study here. The UK is also not exactly known for its sunny climes, hospitality or food. The quality of life in the UK – for most international students – is a shocking struggle. The combination of the expense, weather, food and distance from family and friends often make it a miserable and isolating experience. Compare UK to some of the alternatives: Australia (sun and beach; cheaper and better standards of of living; fabulous food); USA (better funding for graduate students; perceived to be more competitive internationally – particularly by the Chinese; and depending on location – sun, beach and good food). The quality of education in the UK – with the exception of several notable universities – is barely remarkable. These few exceptions, of course, are now threatened (as are the others) by the drastic cuts to higher education funding. Already, fee-income from international students (who pay exorbitant amounts compared to the local students – even after the proposed fee rise) contributes massively to the funding of higher education. So, the decrease in international student numbers also means a decrease in high education funding. The attactiveness of the UK as a higher education destination is already on a downward spiral, these proposed visa changes will only accelerate the decline.
Let’s put things into perspective. For some students, yes, the opportunity to work in the UK for a limited time might be a perk — it adds value to the degree (which they or their sponsors pay for in full), and enriches their experiences just that little more. But as the strict conditions and eligibility criteria of this category of visa means that it is not free path to settlement in the UK. Note that the UKBA table in section 6.1 of the Consultation Papers only gives data for a five year period between 2004-2009. This does not mean that thoses 2004 students who were still here in 2009 have settled in the UK permanently. In fact, if the students came to the UK on a student visa in 2004, then they would not qualify for settlement in the UK in 2009. Whether they settle in the UK or not is an entirely different question governened by the regulations around settlement. So the idea that a vast number of ‘fake’ students are intent on staying in the UK forever is misleading. By UKBA’s own admission more than 80% of students granted visas in 2004 had already left. Another 6% were continuing their studies in the UK (i.e. paying more fees, putting more money into the UK economy). So we’re talking about a possible 14% of students who have stayed on the UK under some form of visa. Of these, some might have started a PhD in 2004, which means that they may have only finished in 2009 and waiting to graduate. Others might have married a British/EU citizen, or some might have entered on the student visa but are actually dual nationals with a British passport already … there are many reasons – not only work – why they might still be in the UK. The figures offered by UKBA is ‘selective’ and encourages a skewed view.
To me, as someone who entered this country as an international student, the proposed changes are mean-spirited, xenophobic and short-sighted. More than discouraging ‘fake’ international students, they discourage even the more genuine of scholars because they send out a message of distrust and fear. Together with the coming cuts to high education, the changes say: ‘We will take your money and give you piece of paper (for after all, the quality of teaching is hardly guaranteed). Then we want you out of here.’ Does this sound like an attractive proposition to you?
I will have more to say about all this in the next few days (oh no, she’s not done!). But in the mean time, you can participate in the consultation process by doing the survey here. Notice the brevity of the consultation period – and over Christmas/New Year too – as if UKBA had secretly hoped that we would not notice. Beware of questions that let you answer ‘I don’t know’ — this gives a carte blanche to UKBA to do whatever they like. So please try to say something positive — or at least tell them what they should not do.
More on this matter soon….