A proposal by the Home Secretary Theresa May on work permits for non-EU students educated in the UK has made headlines recently. The proposal would make all non-EU students, who study on Tier 4 visas, return to their home country to apply for Tier 2 work visas — or indeed any visa extension — at their own cost. Furthermore, whereas at present Tier 4 visa holders are permitted to work up to 20 hours a week during term-time and unlimited hours outside of term, the new proposal would prevent anyone from working in the UK while on a student visa.
The stated aim behind the government’s proposal is the prevention of visa fraud by removing would-be fraudulent workers from the country upon expiry of their student visa and allowing in legitimate workers. Although no statistics have so far been provided to back up the actual incidence of such post-study work visa fraud, it’s hard to imagine this policy being successful seeing as the persons at whom the proposal is aimed would likely simply stay behind illegally anyway, rendering the policy ineffective in its aim. This disproportionately punishes legitimate workers wishing to stay behind on real work visas by imposing both a financial burden and the inconvenience of leaving the country, applying for another visa, and returning.
This proposal ought to be rejected for two reasons.
First, it promotes an image of an unfriendly, economically vulnerable United Kingdom afraid of non-EU students. Indeed, good quality students are increasingly looking away from a British university education. Even through a purely domestic lens, international students bring different points of view and experiences to others’ learning; an immeasurable benefit.
Secondly, the proposal is based on factually inaccurate perceptions. Two such key perceptions are that non-EU students take advantage of public funds in education, and that their presence in the UK as workers post-study is negative.
As it stands, tuition fees for non-EU students in the UK are not capped, unlike the £9,000 cap on domestic and EU students’ tuition fees, and are most often much higher than home and EU tuition fees. Most Russell Group universities in the UK, including Oxford, charge a minimum of £15,000 per annum to non-EU students. In addition to this, non-EU students are charged a “college fee” of £6,925 a year. Being uncapped, these figures often rise annually. Additionally, international students are not entitled to tuition fee loans or maintenance grants, and in the future will not be entitled to maintenance loans.
The second perception, that educated immigrants undermine British economic success, is also untrue. A recent UCL study showed EU immigrants contribute more to the economy than they receive in welfare payments from the government. Given that there is free immigration within the EU, while non-EU nationals face restrictive requirements for Tier 2 work visas, such as a minimum annual salary of £20,800, it surely follows that non-EU skilled immigrants contribute still more to the British economy and take less out of it in welfare benefits. The Immigration Minister in 2014 said that for “legitimate travellers, the UK is always open for business”. Not if Theresa May has anything to do with it.