The new estimate from the Office for National Statistics reveals that the number of international students who stay in the UK after graduating is approximately 4,600. This latest figure overturns the previous estimates of the number being closer to 100,000. This renders Theresa May’s policy on student immigration for the past seven years inaccurate, cruel, and potentially damaging for the UK’s economy.
As Home Secretary, May included students in migration numbers and specifically targeted them in a desperate effort to meet immigration targets, and halve the number of international students coming to study in the UK. Visa controls were tightened, making it increasingly difficult for international students to stay on in the UK after their course ended.
Before 2012, non-EU students who graduated in the UK could stay on and work for two years in a post-study work scheme. Since then, however, international students wishing to remain have had to immediately obtain a graduate job, with a minimum salary of £20,800 with a licensed Home Office employer – a difficult feat for any recent graduate. That, or continue with their education in the UK – an expensive option with international tuition fees being even higher than home student fees.
In the last twenty years the UK has been a popular destination for international students due to its world renowned universities, historic cities, and cultural capital. Until 2011, the number of students coming to the UK had been growing by 3-4% annually, helping to fund and fuel growth in the UK’s higher education sector. But, with an increased crackdown on student numbers, and fear created by the Leave vote in the Brexit referendum, these numbers have fallen.
International students are not financial burdens. Non-EU students contribute millions of pounds each year in tuition fees to a lucrative education sector, whilst also helping the UK to remain a ‘soft power’. In many cases, international students create fond memories in the UK during their studies, and retain a close connection with the country, which comes into play when these students become the next generation of CEOs and artistic directors, and want to promote business here. For those who stay, the UK gains more great minds whose hard-work can only benefit the country.
It is for these reasons that the recent investigation into student migration figures undertaken by the Office for Statistics Regulation, and its revelation about the inaccuracy of the Office for National Statistics’ results, is so concerning. International students are an asset to the UK, but are turning away in their droves to Australia, America, and other European countries as they are made to feel unwelcome by our closed-minded government.
Not only should we remove international students from the UK’s migration statistics, we should also be much kinder and more welcoming towards them when they are here. Students who are constantly worrying about their visa status will never feel truly ‘settled’ or able to produce their best work. Those who have won places here are intelligent and hard-working - qualities we should encourage, not shun.
Yet the Home Office remains brash and aggressive, treating foreign students as though they are unwanted. Recent high-profile cases include Brian White, who moved to the UK aged fifteen with his adoptive family, but was told he must return to Zimbabwe instead of being allowed to take up his place at the University of Oxford. He was only given Limited Leave to Remain when he first entered the UK, and has since been rejected to become a British Citizen by naturalisation, leaving his university place in doubt despite his perfect grades.
The Home Office has been using unnecessarily harsh scare tactics in communications with international students and academics because of false information about the number of them overstaying. In many cases it amounts to bullying, and who in their right mind would want to study in a country that treats them like that? If we want the UK to flourish and capitalise on its outstanding higher education sector, then we must be kinder to the international students who fuel its growth.