Alexander Kohnert: Impact of the Immigration Bill on international students

GMT 11:24 Tuesday ,21 January 2014

 Migrant Voice - Alexander Kohnert: Impact of the Immigration Bill on international students

Alexander Kohnert

When the immigration bill was published we asked students to respond with their views on the three proposals that we saw as most damaging – NHS charges, landlord checks and the removal of appeal rights – and received over 800 responses in three days and 1200 in total. What became clear was that both home and international students were greatly concerned by the proposals outlined in the bill, and felt they would have a dramatic negative impact on the experience of education in the UK. At Sheffield, international students are an important part of our academic community, making up some 46% of our postgraduates and 24% of our student population overall. Moreover, in our research 89% of our overall student population said international students had a “positive” or “very positive” effect on the UK as a whole. Many of our postgraduate teaching and research students are from overseas – these posts perform some of the most vital functions in a university such as marking undergraduate work and teaching seminars, and without them the UK would be unable to conduct the world-class research that it current does. The government proposes to charge international students a “healthcare levy” of between £150 and £200 a year, for the duration of their visa. For students on courses like medicine and engineering this could potentially cost £800 or more before they have even arrived in the country – with visa costs in the UK already some of the highest in the world. International students are also some of the lowest users of healthcare in Britain – they are young, fit, healthy and the majority have no dependants – this levy is charging people for a service that they are likely to not use. There is a perception in government and universities that international students are rich and that this is just “a little bit more” for them to pay. This is not true. Many students are here on scholarships or bursaries and have to plan every penny of their finances before they come. Adding an additional charge further backs up the view reflected by many of the students we surveyed that they are “cash cows”. 77% of our international students said that £200 per year would be either “unaffordable” or “very unaffordable”. At over three quarters, this is not an insignificant number. Many other countries are far more competitive than the UK when it comes to the quality, cost and scope of Higher Education that they offer. The two “USP’s” of this country were a system of healthcare that students could afford to use and the English teaching. Many institutions across the world now teach in English, and this bill will remove the final competitive edge that the UK has in the Higher Education marketplace. In addition, these proposals are not welcomed by the medical profession – the very group the government claims to be helping with them. The Chair of the Council of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Professor Clare Gerada said “The implications for public health are very real. This will inevitably deter people from seeking medical help in the early stages of illness when they can be dealt with cost-effectively and efficiently in primary care, rather than requiring expensive specialist care and increasing admissions to emergency departments.’ Students have already told us that they are already unwilling in the current climate to seek healthcare for fear of being charged – this is a very real and serious welfare issue, and must be addressed. I have a deep concern about the lack of appetite from both MPs and Peers to fight against these NHS charging proposals. I don’t know how many of you have read the governments document on how it plans to implement charging systems, but I urge you to. It is clear to me that this is just the beginning of an NHS that charges patients for healthcare – and if anyone thinks that these charges will stop at immigrants, I am afraid you are being naïve.  On appeal rights, there are people who have spoken before me who are far more knowledgeable and eloquent, but I will briefly outline our viewpoint. Some 89% of all students described the decision to restrict the right to appeal as “unfair”. If this becomes law, international students will be left without a safety net against mistakes. Our staff have been supporting international and home students with immigration appeals since 1991. In our experience over 99% of these appeals have been successful which indicates that the decision-making is flawed, and not the applicant. 65% of students said they did not believe the bill would succeed in its stated aims of cutting down on illegal migrants in the UK and ensuring that legal migrants make a financial contribution to public service. 75% of international students said that had the changes outlined in the Immigration Bill been in place when they were deciding where to go to University, they would have reconsidered their decision to come to the UK. Only 10% said it definitely would not have affected their decision. In short, students will not come here in the future. After the abolition of post-study work visas we have seen a large decrease in the amount of Indian students coming to study in the UK – and these proposals may well be one attack to far on international students – and they will study somewhere else. I’m going to leave you with a quote from another international student. They said: “The UK was once famous for being tolerant and a place that thrived on multiculturalism. With these laws, the UK government is appeasing a small sector that can't see how much cultural interchange can help a country. I'm leaving the UK because it has been too stressful to the point it affected my mental health to deal with these pressures plus a PhD.” Is this the message we want to send? Writer: Alexander Kohnert-International Students' Officer, Sheffield Students Union Alex is the International Students' Officer at Sheffield Students' Union. His job involves representing the views of international students both at Sheffield University and in the wider UK, and this has taken him into working more broadly around immigration and related issues. Born to German and Anglo-Irish parents, he was raised in Oman and the Netherlands before coming to the UK to study at University. Twitter: @alexkohnert Here is another blog by a Migrant Voice member on being an international students in the UK Idil Akinci: We have to rethink the way international students are treated:


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