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// CIUK Contributes to Home Office's Inquiry on Migration

The current UK immigration situation for international students is dire. We hope that Brexit may give them parity with EU students, but are concerned for the future.

During the EU (European Union) referendum in June 23, 2016, the UK voted to leave the EU. Article 50, which is part of European Union law that sets out the process by which member states may withdraw from the EU has been extensively debated after the EU referendum. Prime Minister Theresa May has stated that Article 50 will be triggered no later than the end of March 2017.


The Home Office has announced the launch of an inquiry into the UK's immigration system, with the aim of developing a consensus on an effective immigration policy. 

CIUK has the best interests of the international student community at heart. As a Tier 4 visa holder in the process of obtaining a Tier 2 visa, here are my views on some of the questions posed by the enquiry.  

What approach should the Government take when it comes to international student migration and the availability of employment opportunities?

Up until 2012, there was a Post-Study Work (PSW) visa option, allowing international graduates from UK universities to remain in the UK for a year after graduation. Through it, a graduate visa holder can gain UK work experience before returning to their home country, or apply for a further visa category to remain in the UK for longer. Now, in order to continue living and working in the UK, international students have to find an employer to sponsor their Tier 2 visa before their current Tier 4 visa expires. After they graduate, international students in the UK have just four months to find a job, which must pay at least £20,500, depending on the Standard Occupational Classification (SoC) code.

Cancelling the PSW visa is not a good move, for international students are investing time, money and effort in order to learn and succeed as professionals in the UK. Personally, I had to leave my loved ones in Manila in order to achieve my career goals in London. Therefore, the UK government should invest in international students like me, and give us a chance to thrive in our industry of choice. Re-introducing the PSW visa would be ideal at this point. Consequently, the government should enhance opportunities for qualified international graduates to stay in the UK to work and contribute to the economy. (PSW Trial)

In line with this, it is worth mentioning that a Tier 4 visa pilot scheme is currently in effect. This new pilot scheme allows a selected number of universities (Russell group) to provide one-year international Master’s students the opportunity to be granted an additional six month visa on tip of their course end date. In other words, it is just a two month visa extension for them. Hopefully, this move could be a stepping stone towards bringing back the PSW visa.


What are the pros and cons of international student migration to the UK?

International students are included in the total net migration figures in the UK. This applies to all people who intend to migrate for 12 months or longer, as per UN’s definition of long-term migration.  

Pros

According to a study conducted by Universities UK, international students boost both universities and small towns and cities in the UK.  In addition to jobs in the university sector, the estimated £3.4 billion of off-campus expenditure from non-EU students – on things like rent, food, transport and entertainment – also supports significant numbers of jobs in surrounding towns, cities and regions. In 2011–12, over 136,000 full-time-equivalent British jobs could be attributed to the enrolment of non-EU students at British universities. 

Additionally, international students make an important contribution to Britain economically. They pay tuition fees directly to universities and spend significant sums off campus in shops and businesses, predominantly from funds outside Britain. Given the large number of international students studying at our universities, and the global market share that Britain enjoys, higher education is a significant and successful export industry for the country. Higher education’s export earnings from non-EU students alone have been estimated at £7 billion in 2011–12.

International students also play a vital role in promoting the UK to future leaders. Those who study in Britain and return home (or go elsewhere) to work are likely to leave with a positive view of Britain and substantial personal and professional connections.

Cons

Student visas have been abused in the past. Some student visas have been issued by bogus educational institutions, prompting the government to practice stricter measures in implementing visa rules for international students. Thus, the Residency Labour Market Test was introduced for applicants outside the UK. It requires employers to publicly advertise a job vacancy and prove that there are no British or EU candidates that could fulfil the role effectively.  As a result, international students who want to work in the UK are being treated as a last resort. Assessing applicants based on where they are from, and not on the merits of their academic credentials and capabilities to perform the role is very problematic.

This closed-minded approach is refelected in the statement that Conservative party member, Sajid Javid made in 2015 during his term as Secretary of State for Business, Skills and Innovation. According to him, the UK’s immigration system should allow those from abroad to come to Britain to study, but not to stay on. In an interview with Justin Webb, he said, “But we’ve also got to have a system that doesn’t allow any abuse where people are using the right to study as a way to achieve settlement in Britain.” He added, “So it shouldn’t be about settlement. We’ve got to break the link and make sure it’s focused on people who want to study and then, once they’ve had their studies and completed that, then they leave.


Personally, I do not agree with this strategy. I echo British entrepreneur and inventor James Dyson’s view on the issue. In his interview with The Guardian, he stated, “Train ’em up. Kick ’em out. It’s a bit shortsighted, isn’t it? … Our borders must remain open to the world’s best. Give them our knowledge, allow them to develop their own and permit them to apply it on our shores. Their ideas and inventiveness will create technology to export around the world.”

What approach should be taken to international student migration as part of the Brexit negotiations?

The current government has used a ‘net migration’ target as a key measure, with the Conservative part of the coalition aiming to reduce net migration by tens of thousands at the end of this parliament. Majority of the general public, however, do not want to see international student numbers reduced, even if this means a lower reduction in immigration numbers overall.

I agree with Universities UK's research findings that the government should put an international student growth strategy into action, backed by investment, to promote British universities overseas, establish international connections and draw in more international students to Britain. The success of the campaign will rely on the willingness of international students to move to the UK to study. Thus, it should be accompanied by greater efforts from government – through its words, actions and policies – truly implement that Britain is open.


What steps should be taken to manage the impact of migration in communities? 

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) identifies transcience or 'population churn' as one of the key problems brought about by current immigration policies in the UK. Research shows that non-EU migrants are staying in the UK for relatively short periods due to factors such as labour market trends, housing pressure, increased mobility and changing immigration laws. 

It does not help that Government policies aimed at discouraging migrants from settling in the UK (ie: current policies that seek to ensure international students leave the UK once they compete their degrees). As the IPPR report puts it, "Pursuing policies that explicitly set out to break the link between coming to the UK and settling here is counterproductive." Additionally, the transitory nature of international students’ stay in the UK destroys career goals, personal relationships and hopes for a brighter future for those who wish to settle.

Therefore, the UK Government should come up with strategies mapping out how they will manage demographic change, higher migration rates and greater diversity. William Eichler of localgov.uk proposes a strategy which has enormous potential to succeed. He proposes that: 

  • local authorities should work on acquiring a better understanding of trends affecting their populations
  • they should use this knowledge to preempt potential social tensions
  • local services should be prepared to liaise with newcomers by offering bespoke services and simplify the integration process 
  • engage with their residents through citizens' juries, involving those who directly benefit from higher rates of migration, such as UK universities, employers, key community and religious groups and the general public.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, the current immigration policies make it difficult for the international student community to work and settle in the UK.

Firstly, despite the fact that international students contribute significantly to the economy by paying enormous tuition fees, job opportunities for them are limited. Most international students are unaware that they should apply for a job as soon as they arrive in the UK, so they end up having only four months to find a job after graduation. They are also subject to rejection by majority of the companies they apply for because of their need for a Tier 2 sponsorship. I faced this struggle myself, and was rejected for more than 25 times before I was able to succeed in securing a Tier 2 job.

Secondly, international students are at a disadvantaged position, despite their positive contributions to the UK. They boost small universities and towns throughout the course of their studies, and are instrumental in promoting the UK to future leaders. Conservatives, however, have a negative perception of international students due to incidents in the past, wherein visas have been issued by bogus educational institutions. The result is a stricter immigration policy that allows international students to study, without working and settling in the UK afterwards.

Thirdly, the transcience phenomenon that international students are subjected to has a negative effect on career plans they have for themselves and relationships they have formed in the UK. Both will disintegrate if they are unsuccessful in finding a job before their visa expires. The life they have carved for themselves during their stay in the UK will seem to be just a dream sequence, and going back home will be anti-climactic.

To improve current immigration practices, the UK government should be more open to international students. This can be achieved by reintroducing the PSW visa and providing actual equal opportunities for non-EU, EU and British students alike. Equal opportunities should not just be a section in every company’s application form. It should be put into practice by screening job applicants based on skills and capabilities- never where they are from. The right to work should be enjoyed by everyone. That, in itself, would unite all cultures, ideologies and possibilities in this kingdom. 

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