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Published on June 5th, 2014 | by Charles Fleetham
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Beyond the EU: Student Immigration in the UK

In the past 4 years the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford has observed a significant drop in non-EU student immigration to the UK. This is important for a number of reasons, firstly international students are an important source of financing for UK universities, they are a real economic factor. It is also a weighty issue because of their role after they graduate, in past years many would look for employment within the UK, continuing to play a role in our economy and culture.

The UK government has repeatedly stated that students should act like savvy consumers when it comes to their education; students should demand their rights as consumers. Recently, an inquiry by the BBC found that there had been 20,000 complaints at 100 universities polled over the course of 1 year. This has been lauded as students listening to government advice, and getting the most out of their money. So, it is perplexing to me that the same government that has actively commercialized higher education has chosen to make it less desirable to come to the UK to study if you are a non-EU student. The non-EU student pays far higher fees, they are extremely attractive customers in that sense. But in 2012 the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition chose to revoke the post-study work visa that gave students 2 years after completing their degree to pursue a career in the UK – no need for sponsors, no need for hoops. The new system instead gives students just 3 short months to attempt to find a way to remain in the UK legally.

In the Autumn of 2011, I began my Master’s degree in International Conflict Analysis, and through a stroke of luck I ended up in student accommodation that comprised of 24 students from across the world. This was a truly unique and enlightening experience that broadened my cultural horizons in a beautiful way; but two years later, and only 2 of the non-EU students that I lived with still reside in the UK. One continues to study for his PhD and has yet to struggle for the right to remain. The other has one month left on his PSW visa, at which point if he has still failed to find a sponsor – he will leave the UK. Many of Catch21’s readers are students, and I am sure some of you can think of a few friends who are going to have to go through this fight eventually.

The options for non-EU students can be quickly explained by useful websites such as 1st 4immigration. To briefly summarize, there are a few options that can keep non-EU students in the UK post-study. If they have the entrepreneur spirit they could try to open a successful business, if they can receive funding from a UK based venture capital fund. Unfortunately it is not possible to choose to fund the business yourself. A Tier 2 (general) visa can be granted after being offered a sponsorship from a licensed employer. The position with the employer must pass the Resident Labour Market Test, be a high skill level (NQF6), and pay a minimum salary of £20,300. To view a list of the jobs that fit the skill level head to the website. Finally, non-EU students can remain in the UK if they marry a native, providing if the native earns over £18,000 per annum – a requirement that has been debated in courts recently. Free Movement has been following the progress of this issue and has a great website for researching immigration law.

In my mind, the most realistic options for non-EU students is option B – a Tier 2 visa requiring sponsorship. However there is a cap on the number of Tier 2 general visas that can be issued, the cap for 2013/2014 being 20,700. The UK Council for International Student Affairs reported that in 2012-2013 there were 299,970 non-EU students in the UK. These students were all at different stages of studying, but these numbers give a good idea of the competition there will be for a Tier 2 general visa. Thus, it becomes ever the more perverse to me that a government that has insistently stated that higher education should be considered a business, has placed such restrictions on their premier customers. I am aware that general immigration policy has become the flavour of this election cycle, yet making it harder for highly educated students to remain in the UK seems self-defeating. They are not the stereotypical immigrants that certain political parties are up in arms against, they are the sought after young professionals that will add to the strength of our economy.

This is an issue that I feel extremely strongly about. In the last 2 years I have watched close friends fight for the chance to remain in the UK after spending 5 years studying here. I am absolutely certain that the UK has lost out on high calibre graduates who could have made a real contribution to the culture, economy, and society of my nation. And it is to my shame that these men and women have had to suffer because of how our political parties have used immigration policy as a scapegoat for wider issues.


Please note that all blog posts do not represent the views of Catch21 but only of the individual writers. We also aim to be factually accurate and balanced across all content taken as a whole.

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About the Author

Charlie is a graduate from the University of Kent, having achieved a Bachelor's degree in War Studies, and a Master's degree in International Conflict Analysis. He has recently concluded a research internship with the conflict resolution non-government organisation the Next Century Foundation, and is also a regular contributor to the political blog the Institute of Opinion.

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