Cross-Party support for new immigration bill which discriminates against international students

London Metropolitan University students protest outside of Downing Street

London Metropolitan University students protest outside of Downing Street

THE UK GOVERNMENT is set to pass a new immigration bill which discriminates against international students. The bill is receiving strong support from the Labour Party, amongst others, with only Plaid Cymru, the Scottish National Party and the Green Party in opposition. International students make up 75% of those subject to visa controls, and are already the most heavily regulated and monitored, in addition to paying the most into the UK economy during their stay.

The further proposed regulations will include healthcare charges of up to £200 per person per year for all non-EEA international students coming into the UK to use the NHS. This could mean additional visa fees of up to £3000 for postgraduate research students coming into the UK with families. In addition to this, the government plan to introduce fines for private landlords who do not ensure that their tenants have the right to remain in the UK.

Yvette Cooper, Shadow Home Secretary, announced:

“We (the Labour Party) will not oppose the bill today, as we believe that it should go through to committee stage so we can amend and reform it and use this opportunity to introduce better, fairer controls to deal with this government’s failures and make immigration work for all.”

The bill is undergoing its second reading debate, during which MPs discuss the main principles. The government says it wants the bill to help it achieve its aim of cutting net migration from non-EU countries to fewer than 100,000 a year.

The immigration bill comes at a time when migration numbers have fallen by more than a third. The Office for National Statistics data shows a net total of 153,000 migrants came to the UK in the year to September 2012, compared to 242,000 the year before.

Sarah Mulley, associate director of think-tank the IPPR, said the fall in reducing net migration was largely driven by declining numbers of non-EU students. She said that:

“This decline in international student numbers comes at considerable economic cost to the UK at a time when we can ill afford it.”

She added that because most students stay in the UK only for a short time, reduced immigration now will mean reduced emigration in the future.

“For example, the latest research suggests that only 18% of student migrants are still in the UK after 5 years.”

Student visa rules have already been tightened up in recent years, with rules requiring applicants to have face-to-face interviews with their potential colleges or universities, and requiring better English language skills than in previous years. Visa restrictions have also been tightened for international students coming to study at UK colleges and language schools, with a 46% drop in visas for these types of students. Many of these students are now forced to come on visitor visas.

Study Group UK’s managing director for higher education James Pitman said:

“Today’s international FE and English language students are tomorrow’s university students and a drop of almost half in visa applications here is real cause for concern. Even conservative estimates suggest 40% of international students arrive at universities through FE and independent pathway routes. This supply is being slowly strangled and is a catastrophe waiting to happen for UK higher education.”

He added: “It’s quite right that abuse of the student visa system be stamped out. But, finding itself without the proper migration exit data required to address the issue precisely, rather than make considered reforms, the government has reached for the sledgehammer to crack this particular nut. The modest increase in university sponsored visas may give the illusion that all is well, but it simply reflects applications from non-EU students who have been in the country for years already, taking GCSEs and A-levels in preparation for higher education study.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills denied that the tightening of visa rules for students would have a knock-on effect on universities, saying its strategy was to eliminate abuse and focus on the high quality, high value sectors.

“We are achieving our aim, as sponsored visa applications fell to 46%, 46% and 7% respectively for the further education sector (tertiary, further education or other colleges), English language schools and independent schools. The latest University and College Admissions Service figures show applications from non-EU students are currently 5.5% higher than this time last year.”

She added that: “We want to attract more world-class individuals with the knowledge and expertise that will drive leading research and economic growth. However we have reformed the student visa system because it has been abused for too long, with providers selling immigration, not education.”

Chief executive of Universities UK Nicola Dandridge said: “Despite these figures indicating a rise in the number of university-sponsored visas, more recent data from universities show that new enrollments, the clearest indicator of future numbers, have remained broadly flat this year. University data also show a mixed picture, with some specific drops from countries such as India and concern about a decline in the number of international post-graduate taught students.”

But she added that it was too soon to assess the exact impact of the government’s immigration reforms.