UK visa policy likely to prevent genuine students from studying, hard hitting report claims

by Ray Clancy on February 24, 2011

New visa policy set back genuine student applications

Tens of thousands of genuine international students are at risk of being turned away from British universities and colleges, costing the UK billions of pounds, in pursuit of an artificial target for cutting immigration, according to a new research report.

The UK government has pledged to cut annual net migration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands but the study from the Institute of Public Policy Research says that reducing student immigration will have only short lived impacts on total net migration because only a small proportion of international students end up staying in the UK permanently.

Although restricting the entry of foreign students would reduce net migration in the short term by cutting immigration, emigration would also decline in future years. This means that even large reductions in student immigration will deliver only small reductions in net migration in the longer term, it explains.

It also points out that the UK’s education sector makes a valuable contribution to the economy, and to export earnings. It is estimated that international students bring up to £10 billion into the UK economy every year through fees and direct spending alone. Education institutions themselves would be badly hit by reduced international student numbers, at a time when funding is already extremely tight and the potential impacts could include job losses, some courses and departments no longer being viable, and increased costs for UK students.

‘In the run up to the announcement of severe cuts in international student numbers, the government has made much of abuse of the student visa system. It is absolutely right to clamp down this, everybody agrees with that. But emphasising this issue now is something of a smokescreen, because the best evidence suggests that the vast majority of international students come here legitimately and most stay for only a short time,’ said Sarah Mulley, Associate Director for Migration, Trade and Development at ippr.

‘The government will not reduce immigration in a big way by tackling student visa cheats. To meet their election pledge, they will have to significantly reduce the number of legitimate international students, and their proposals would do just that. This will cause real damage to the education sector, and the wider British economy, all in pursuit of an artificial migration target,’ she added.

The report welcomes proposals to further tighten rules for the education institutions which sponsor international students in order to reduce abuse of the student visa system, and suggests that these changes should also be backed up by a range of other measures to prevent abuse, but raises concerns about the government’s wider proposals.

The report also argues that many of the changes proposed would have the effect of damaging the recruitment of legitimate international students, and are based on limited or unreliable evidence.

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