Share your story! - Rights of international students
Daniel Stevens is a Brazilian MSc. Student and the former President of Warwick SU. He currently sits on the NUS National Executive Council. NUS (National Union of Students) is a confederation of 600 students' unions. Through their member students' unions, they represent the interests of more than seven million students.
I still remember where I was, when the term “net migration” first entered the political discourse in April 2010. As the President-Elect of Warwick Students’ Union I was in the library studying for my impending final exams and watching the Prime Ministerial debates.
The first question posed was on immigration highlighting its electoral significance at the time. David Cameron responded by attacking Labour’s record and boasting the Conservative Government’s target of reducing “net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands”. So contentious was immigration that year that an independent think tank, Demos, later found it was one of key the reasons voters left Labour due to their perceived moderate stance. Little did I know at the time how serious the implications of that electoral sound-bite would be. Ever since taking office, Immigration Minister Damian Green and Home Secretary Theresa May have continued to allude to and reaffirm this commitment.
However, due to student visas, the coalition Government's net migration target is virtually impossible. Net migration was around 252,000 last year. Most of that figure consisted of student migration (255,000 student visas were issued last year). This has led to the Government cracking down on student visas by any and all means with brutal new requirements and the removal of rights for international students in order to desperately find a way to meet this target by the next general election.
Just some (and I emphasize some) controversial new policies that have been implemented include:
- The pricing out of International students. International students are being priced out of a UK Education through extortionate visa fees, maintenance requirements and the requirement to pay for their University fees upfront making it certain that only the affluent can choose to study in the UK. Visa fees have been increasing year on year, and the amount international students must show in their bank accounts before arrival will now increase by £5400 to £7200 for those outside Inner London.
- Increasing English Language Requirements. At the same time, English language requirements have increased with international students having to take exams which even some native speakers couldn’t even pass.
- Removing Rights from International Students. The rights of international students are being removed. The right to a Post-study work visa will be removed on 6 April and the new work route uses salary limit to means-test those who can stay. Mature Undergraduate students can no longer bring their families to the UK and those in private colleges have no working rights.
- Increasing the Requirements for Colleges to Recruit International Students.Dozens of colleges have shut down courses because they can no longer afford new requirements for educational oversight for international students. This has left thousands of international students in a limbo where they have a visa for a course that no longer exists and is thus invalid. Not only that, the UKBA has recently threatened to ban collegesin Scotland from recruiting international students. This would mean that potentially thousands of international students would be forced to return home. What is more worrying is that this is only the beginning of the UKBA’s crackdown on colleges in the name of compliance.
Shockingly enough- these are still severely lenient policies when compared to the Government’s original draconian proposals back in December of 2010 which would have brutally destroyed the pre-degree education sector including A-levels and foundation programs.
Do the public really even want this? A recent poll conducted by the Migration Observatory found that only 30% of respondents were in favor of reducing HE/FE international student numbers. Even then, I’ve found that most negative attitude towards international students comes from misunderstandings of their benefits (cultural, cross subsidization of home students, diplomatic ties, etc.) Regardless, no one from the Government is willing to make a public stand for international students in the midst of this crackdown - neither Labour nor the Liberal Democrats.
The NUS International Students’ Campaign has launched a new social campaign called “Share Your Story.” Our hope is to get international students involved in the campaign, collect case studies, start painting a narrative and encourage them to write to their local MPs about what’s really happening due to the Government’s net migration policies. Over a thousand international students have already liked the page with many more sending in their stories. Newcastle, LSE, and SOAS have all done activities locally to promote awareness about the campaign.
Some of the stories really bring to life some of the key issues. One student missed his Uncle’s funeral because the UKBA was holding his passport for an extended period of time. Many mentioned the thousands of pounds spent on visa fees and trivial mistakes on visa applications which meant entire applications had to be redone and the visa fee repaid.
Another mentioned his friend who could not take up a job and had to return to his home country because his visa was rejected on a trivial ground. Just the other day at SOAS, a woman mentioned that a company reneged on her job offer a few months ago when they found out she was an international student. One student from LSE highlighted that he would never have gotten a job offer without the use of Post-study work visa to do an internship after his studies. A representative from the Royal College of Art said their international students could never dream to able to meet the new salary requirements.
It’s difficult to stress how the mood has changed in the UK. At my own Postgraduate course at Warwick, visas have become a nightmare. I’ve met worried and frustrated international students at virtually every University I’ve traveled to from Coventry to SOAS.
International students are being victimized for nothing more than political reasons. We’re an easy target. Help us build momentum with this campaign. Like the page and encourage your friends to do so as well. Write to your local MP. Share Your Story.