A proposal by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, that would have required international-student graduates to leave the country at the end of their course and then reapply for a new visa in order to return, has been blocked by senior members of the Conservative party.
May pledged the harder line on international students as a move to bring down net migration figures. She hoped to have the policy put into her party’s election manifesto, and then to have it implemented by a Conservative-majority government in the next parliament.
However, in a move led by the Chancellor, George Osborne, senior Tories have torpedoed the proposals. One senior Conservative said: “We have a policy that international students can stay when they graduate if they find a graduate-level job paying £24,000 a year. That remains the policy”.
The current system allows students from outside the EU to stay in Britain for four months after the end of their courses, and if they get graduate jobs they can then switch from student visas to a work visa.
A senior Home Office official said that abuse of the system was fuelling net migration, and May has admitted that the government is unlikely to met David Cameron’s target of reducing net migration to the tens of thousands by the next election. This proposal can be seen as a move on May’s part to combat this.
The Home Secretary argued that the projected increase in student numbers will be unsustainable unless the majority leave when their student visa expires. However, in April it was revealed that the number of overseas students taking up places in British universities has decreased by nearly 5,000 in one year: the first fall in 29 years.
In a Times article last month, David Willets, Universities Minister, wrote: “There is a global trend for more students to study abroad. We should aim to increase our share of this growing market.
“But if we implemented the latest idea from the Home Office for new restrictions on overseas students, we would not only miss this golden opportunity – we would be acting in a mean-spirited and inward-looking way”.
Stela Glakousaki, International Students’ Officer at UUEAS, told Concrete: “Already, international students are given only four months of post study visa, when the average time for home students to become employed is six months. May’s proposed policy, in my eyes at least, is unethical. International students are only welcome when they can boost the economy, by spending thousands of pounds on their education and personal expenses.
She added: “I think it is more likely to affect the interests of masters students. Because they come only for a year, there is not enough time to improve their language skills, so they are at a disadvantage compared both to international students that have done undergraduate degrees in the UK and to home students”.