Speaking for Ourselves

Editorial: Students need more than token gestures

Editorial: Students need more than token gestures


 Migrant Voice - Editorial: Students need more than token gestures

The UK must urgently overhaul its policies if it is to keep attracting international students, as the government has recently said it wishes to do.

But the latest policy change – a small extension to the time that foreign students can stay and work in the UK after graduating – is no more than a token gesture.

Universities have been clamouring for years for a return of the post-study work visa, which allowed international students to stay and work in the UK for two years after graduating and which was abolished in 2012.

But the extension is a measly two months – new graduates can now stay for six months to look for work rather than four – and it’s an absurd and pointless change. Very few companies will employ someone who has six months left on their visa (and that’s if by some miracle the job is offered the day after the person graduates). Six months is the probation period in many jobs – reach the end of that and you’ll have to leave the country, right at the point when your employer has to decide if they want to keep you on.

The government’s refusal to bring back a genuine post-study work visa is a symptom of their obsession with the migration statistics.

As long as international students are still included in those statistics – which we have long argued against – they will be subjected to the same reductive logic that led to the hostile environment, the logic that says the numbers must be reduced, at almost any cost.

It’s this logic that led to the abolition of the post-study work visa and to the sweeping punishment of tens of thousands of international students in 2014 after a handful were found to have cheated on an English language test.

In other words, it’s this logic that led to thousands of people being unjustly stripped of the opportunity to better themselves by working and studying in the UK, a dream destination for countless young people around the world.

We are calling for students to be removed from the migration statistics and offered a genuine welcome in this country, starting with the reinstatement of the two-year post-study work visa.

For many students arriving in the UK before 2012, that visa was a big part of the appeal. One student from Sri Lanka told us she was devastated when it was abolished shortly before she graduated.

She took the Home Office to court over it, arguing that the government should have honoured her expectation of being able to work in the UK after graduating.

“Mentally it’s been agonising,” she said.

Not only has this government’s obsession with numbers and logic of hostility unfairly damaged the lives of tens of thousands, but it isn’t logical at all from an economic perspective.

A report published on 21 March criticised the government’s enactment of a “hostile environment” against international students, revealing that the UK has missed out on £150 million in tax revenues every year since the post-study work visa was abolished.

It’s an economic reality of which the government is aware. Along with the two-month extension, the government announced a grand target of increasing the number of international students coming to the UK by 30% - a laughable goal when viewed alongside the current hostile policies.

On international students, this government wants to have its cake and eat it too. They want the money they bring, but their presence for no longer than necessary. For international students, the door is open, but the welcome is cold.

Unsurprisingly, many of them are now reluctant to come here. Numbers have only grown 3% since 2011 – compared to 45% in Australia (where students can stay and work for up to four years after graduating), and 57% in Canada (where there’s a three-year post-study visa for many graduates).

If this government is serious about attracting international students – and we would remind them that they contribute far more to our country than cash – the insular logic underpinning all UK immigration policy must be replaced with an open-minded attitude and a set of policies to match.


TOP IMAGE: 180504acp339mb194.jpg, UK College of Agriculture, Food & Environment, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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