The Government has announced changes to the Immigration Rules, which are intended to reduce the number of non-EU nationals to come to the UK to study. Introducing the changes, the Immigration Minister James Brokenshire said that the changes are designed to "reduce net migration and to tackle immigration abuse, whilst ensuring we maintain an excellent offer for students who wish to study at our world-class universities". Curiously, the Government chose to announce the changes through the medium of The Daily Mail, rather than in parliament.
The headline changes are that all non-EU college students will be barred from working in the UK whilst here on Tier 4 visas. International students at private colleges are already prevented from working but this will now be extended to new students at publicly funded further education colleges - such students are currently allowed to work for up to 10 hours per week. Note that this will notaffect university students, who will continue to be allowed to work for up to 20 hours per week.
In addition, college students will no longer be allowed to extend their stay or switch into any other points-based route in-country - ie they will have to make such applications from outside the UK. Again, note that this will not affect students at higher education institutions.
Students at further education colleges will also now only be able to obtain visas for up to two years, rather than three.
Contrary to the way in which these measures have been reported in the press, it will be new students at further education colleges, rather than foreign students in general, who will be affected by these particular measures. However, other measures being introduced, such as an increase in maintenance requirements, will affect all non-EU students.
There is in fact a whole host of other changes affecting Tier 4 students. The purpose of these changes is listed in the Explanatory Memorandum to the Statement of Changes as follows:
- Increase the maintenance requirements for Tier 4 (General) and Tier 4 (Child) students.
- Expand the area in which Tier 4 students have to demonstrate a higher maintenance requirement for London to include the University of London, or institutions wholly or partly within the area comprising the City of London and the former Metropolitan Police District.
- Apply the same maintenance requirements to all Tier 4 (General) students, regardless of whether they are already living in the UK, except Doctorate Extension Scheme students.
- Make all time spent in the UK as a Tier 4 student count towards Tier 4 time limits.
- Change the conditions for those given leave to enter or remain to study at publicly-funded further education colleges, to prohibit work.
- Prevent college students from extending their stay in Tier 4 or switching into any other points-based route in-country.
- Allow university students to extend their studies at the same academic level, but only if the course is linked to the previous course and the university confirms that the course supports the student's genuine career aspirations.
- Prevent Tier 4 (General) Students from spending longer than two years in the UK studying further education courses.
- Allow a Tier 4 visa to be issued in line with a student's intended date of travel.
- Require that Tier 4 (Child) Students be sponsored by Independent Schools only (which does not include Academies).
- Prevent Tier 4 (Child) Students granted leave after the changes come into force, and those already here not sponsored by an HEI in receipt of public funding from specified bodies, to switch into Tier 2 and Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur).
- Prohibit Tier 4 Migrants from studying at Academies or schools maintained by a local authority.
The changes allowing visas to be issued in line with the student's intended date of travel are already in force.
The other Tier 4 changes will take effect from 12 November 2015 for applications made on or after that date.
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the latest announcement is the increasingly negative manner in which non-EU students are being portrayed by the Government. For instance, Mr Brokenshire told The Daily Mail that 'Hard-working taxpayers who are helping to pay for publicly funded colleges expect them to be providing top class education, not a back door to a British work visa.' Business Secretary Sajid Javid said in the same article, 'But we've also got to have a system that doesn't allow any abuse when people are using the right to study as a way to achieve settlement in Britain. So 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.' Any non-EU student reading those statements would take away the impression that they are not really wanted here. Furthermore, in view of the rhetoric employed by the Government, it would be no surprise if further measures, such as barring higher education students from working in the UK, were to be introduced in the not too distant future.
These measures come on top of other proposals in pursuit of the Government's ambition of reducing legitimate annual net migration to the tens of thousands. Legitimate migrants are being targetted because of a complete failure to address the problem of illegal immigration, which is the root cause of the problem. Dealing with illegal immigration involves telling the electorate the truth about the continued cost, social as well as economic, of previous maladministration by governments of all political complexions.
In October 2014, the Public Accounts Committee said that the Home Office had failed to deal with the UK's backlog of asylum cases, with 29,000 applications dating back at least seven years waiting to be resolved. Contact had been lost with 50,000 people who had been refused the right to stay. The Government's efforts would be better directed at tracing and removing those with no legitimate entitlement to stay here, rather than creating ever increasing hurdles for those who make a net contribution to our economy and society to overcome in order to legitimately migrate here. Whilst the Refugee and Human Rights Conventions must be strictly observed, those who have no right to be here must be deterred from entering; and those who do make it here must have their cases dealt with swiftly to avoid them being forced into the black economy and being exploited or abused.
Students provide a good example of the shortsightedness of the current policy of targetting legitimate migrants. Non-EU students, who often pay university fees in the region of £15,000pa, play an important part in subsidising domestic students' further and higher education. Reducing their numbers reduces their subsidy to domestic students.
Moreover, the Government repeatedly says that it wants to attract the brightest and the best to the UK. Students are where the brightest and the best are often to be found. Is it really in the country's best interest if they take their talents elsewhere upon completion of their courses?