Speaking for Ourselves

The dark side of policies for international students

The dark side of policies for international students


 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - The dark side of policies for international students

Students aspiring to study abroad go through a careful decision-making process before choosing to move their whole life to a different country for a minimum of 3-4 years. They weigh many factors that help formulate this life-changing decision that is not only an investment towards the betterment of their future but also comes with a significant financial commitment. 

In 2007 when the Post Study Work Visa (PSW) was put in place, British representatives travelled to recruit students. They made a compelling pitch about the benefits of choosing to invest in your higher education in the UK, citing the UK’s international competitive edge: the Post Study Work Visa. The promise offered a world-class academic experience as well as two years British-standard work experience via the PSW scheme after graduation. This package meant that students would benefit from acquiring a unique set of skills and experience which would set them apart among young professionals in the workforce in their home country.

In 2008 I was one of those students who, after visiting the British Council, felt excited for the future I could obtain through this experience. As planned, I graduated in 2012, but what should have been a moment of celebration quickly descended into hellish nightmare far from the dream Britain’s representatives had painted of my future. The government did not just alter the deal: in 2012 it abolished the PSW route.

The policy reform was applied rigidly, with no consideration about exempting students who had already invested in the UK whilst the policy was in place. It failed to recognise and act justly to prevent unfair disruptions to the plans of students who had a legitimate expectation of qualifying for this route on graduation. British universities and government spoke as one voice when selling the benefits of this opportunity of a lifetime, but suddenly became separate entities, with both unwilling to assume any responsibility. 

I felt abandoned and in limbo, no longer fitting into any box. At the time I sincerely believed this must have been an administrative oversight, and so raced to find a fair resolution to get my plans back on track.

The institution that I once trusted would conduct itself in a principled and responsible manner had changed to operating with a single motive: implementing a hostile environment policy. My family and I had invested all we had in the original promise. So to have been faced with the reality that the future in which I had invested was snatched away through no fault of my own was a loss too hard to bear. 

The PSW scheme has now been reinstated, so this is a cautionary tale of the difficulties you will face as an international student hoping to invest your future in the UK as I once did. There are no measures in place to safeguard your investment and the rights of international students are poorly represented. Often you will end up alone fighting a battle that’s bigger than you, with the chance of success slim to nothing. At any point the UK government could cease to honour any policy currently in place: four years down the line you might find yourself in the same hopeless position as I did.

Here also lies an opportunity for the government and official bodies like Universities UK to recognise the difficult considerations and choices international students make before they invest a huge portion of their life and youth in the UK, and to make every effort to put tangible measures in place to protect the rights of this group of people with the fairness and integrity they deserve.

This article was written and published as part of Migrant Voice's International Students Week (13-17 July 2020). We're celebrating international students in the UK and raising their voices on the issues that affect them. Read more here.