Hopes of removing international students from the UK’s migration target and restoring the post-study work visas to overseas students at British universities were dashed when the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published its Impact of International Students in the UK report.
Reaction was swift with Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, telling the BBC the recommendations were “woefully disappointing” and gave the impression the UK government was “not truly committed to an increase in international student numbers”.
Lord Bilimoria, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Students, went further, saying the report was so weak “it would not be surprising if it were perceived to be not completely independent.”
But Lord Green, chairman of Migration Watch UK, welcomed the “excellent report” and told the BBC the committee’s “endorsement of the inclusion of students in the migration statistics should put this issue to bed”.
So, what’s really going on and will the report’s conclusions help or hinder plans by UK universities to increase the number of international students coming to the country?
Here, Damon Culbert from the Immigration Advice Service, a private firm of specialist immigration lawyers with extensive experience in every feature of UK immigration law, writes a guest blog for DelaCourCommunications.com to try to explain what’s going on…
Handling international students post-Brexit
With Brexit moving ever closer, and as a new round of negotiations begins between the UK and the EU, there are many questions left unanswered about what the country will look like once we leave.
As part of their planning for the future of our immigration system, the Home Office commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to produce a report on international students in the UK. In it, the MAC assessed the current state of international students and then advised on a number of ways which may help Britain remain an attractive place for students after Brexit.
The committee stated that Britain was certainly competitive in its draw for students from across the globe but said that it must make some changes if it is to remain at the top of the pile.
The UK currently welcomes over 750,000 students per year who come to enjoy the world-renowned education provided by our education institutions. The MAC observe that domestic students generally have a very positive view of international students, as well as a positive impact on the economy of the places they study in.
Target to cut net migration criticised
But the government has come under criticism for its target to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands. This target, implemented under David Cameron and then-home secretary Theresa May, has not been reached since it began in 2010. The country has also seen a rise in non-EEA migration in recent years, which is the form of immigration that we have more control over already. Calls to remove students from the migration target have been regularly swatted away by the prime minister and the Home Office and the MAC supports this thinking.
The committee state in their report: ‘If there is a problem with students in the net migration target, it is with the target itself rather than with the inclusion of students’.
What if UK leaves EU with no deal?
If the UK leaves the EU with no deal, our current immigration system – including this target – will not be suitable and could have drastic consequences across a number of sectors.
No deal would mean there were no agreements on the circumstances of immigration from Europe, meaning that Europeans would be subject to immigration controls the same as all other countries.
The Tier 4 Student Visa requirements currently include evidence that you can afford the cost of your course and have enough money to support yourself while here. The Tier 4 Visa also restricts the amount of time you can work depending on your level of study, meaning Europeans would have less opportunity to fund their studies by working.
A no deal Brexit could totally destroy Britain’s reputation as a welcoming and global name in education and greatly reduce the quality of our institutions through its exclusionary after effects. The experience of domestic students would be changed by a lack of diversity of students and many European professionals in Higher Education could opt for institutions on the continent rather than remain in a place they feel no longer wants them.
Relaxing post-study work rules
To maintain the UK as a welcoming and competitive place for students, many of the MAC’s recommendations focus on post-study work opportunities. Currently, PhD students subject to the Immigration Rules have leave to remain for four months after their course finishes, which can be extended to a year of work through the Doctorate Extension Scheme. The MAC suggests that PhD students automatically have this one-year period after study in which to find work. This would support the countless numbers, specifically in the sciences, who go on to take research roles and support our academic community.
For master’s and undergraduates, they can currently remain for up to four months, with a trial underway to allow six months, and are able to apply for a Tier 2 Work Visa with more relaxed requirements.
The MAC believe that all students should receive this six-month post-study period and also have the right to apply for the Tier 2 Visa for up to two years after their studies, even if they leave the UK during this time. These changes would encourage students to come to the UK with the prospect of remaining or re-entering for work after they have graduated. This would make studying in the UK appealing as it allows access to a wider market of opportunities no matter what your country of origin.
The MAC have ensured that their recommendations on post-study work are not too broad. They believe that to extend working rights for international students too far would devalue the education provided in the UK and present study as an easier entry route for workers.
The suggestions of the MAC could forecast an open immigration system which celebrates the contributions of international students without jeopardising the UK’s reputation as a world-class education provider. Should the government want to retain the levels of student migration, whose benefits far outweigh the burden on the immigration system that they may cause, it must take note of these recommendations for the future.
Although these suggestions could help the Higher Education sector immediately following Brexit the committee do state that they do not ‘see any upside for the sector in leaving the EU’. This damning statement evidences the dangers that Brexit will bring but the UK’s reputation, combined with a sensible immigration plan, could protect it from the worst of the damage.
- This blog expresses the views of the Immigration Advice Service, a private firm of specialist immigration lawyers with extensive experience in every feature of UK immigration law and was written by Damon Culbert, content writer for the company. IAS is the largest company of immigration lawyers in the UK.
- Also see Overseas students should ‘stay in migration target’, BBC news online, 11 September, 2018
Main photo: Immigration Advice Service