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Is the UK government right about international students?

The UK Government, led by PM Theresa May, is taking some hard calls on international students. Is the policy based on real numbers and good sense? Read below to find out.
BY Skendha Singh |   21-10-2016
Image credits: UNE Photos, CC by 2.0

International student numbers are a topic of hot debate in the UK. Thanks to the Government’s unfriendly measures, the number has dipped for the first time in 30 years. Even so, PM Theresa May wants to see it go down further, because there is political pressure to restrict net migration to 100,000 a year – a drastic cut from the current 330,000. There are, however voices of dissent, which believe that international students should not be discouraged from studying or working in the UK.

The root of the debate is the Conservative argument that a significant number of international students either breach their visa terms or overstay illegally. To confirm this, the UK government reinstated a system of Exit Checks last year. These Exit Checks provide details of travelers leaving the British border. But, to be able to appraise the situation correctly, the British government needs a single unbiased lens.

Recently, PM May, using the argument made by a campaign group, Migration Watch, stated that 110,000 foreign students stay on in the UK – through marrying, enrolling in further studies or switching from student (Tier 4) to skilled worker (Tier 2) visas. And that a major percentage of them “vanish”.

These numbers are questionable. According to a survey of the Exit Checks data by The Times, the percentage of students who stay on illegally, is as little as 1% (approximately 1500). The government, however, has refused to accept this figure. It has also said that the data emerging from the Exit Checks is incomplete.

In the meanwhile, there are deep rooted differences within the government on how to treat the international student situation. Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, has previously told the media that she would like to help students who “stick to the rules,” while Chancellor Philip Hammond has argued against including international student numbers in the net migration statistics. PM May has categorically refused to consider either suggestion. Instead, she has told media that she is considering restricting the “favourable employment prospects” for international students, raising English proficiency requirements, and making the visa process tougher.

Not that the UK is a particularly favourable employment prospect at present for international students. To switch from a Tier 4 student visa to a Tier 2 skilled worker visa is a tough task. For one, students must have a job which pays more than 20,800 GBP per annum. At entry level, most jobs don’t. Again, a majority of the employers prefer domestic graduates.

The international student population is well aware of the UK’s unwelcoming attitude. Hence, the first dip in number of incoming students in 30 years. Who stands to lose? The economy – 11 million GBP, according to The Times. The universities, who will find it hard to fund postgraduate technical programs, which are the main draw for overseas students. And the UK, which is making the material of its polity more brittle than ever.
 

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