The Conservative-led coalition has repeatedly said they intend to cut net migration from the "hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands."
The government's long list of new regulations price international students out of a UK education through visa fees, added maintenance requirements and the requirement to pay university fees up front, tighten English language requirements, and remove a variety of rights from international students.
In addition to being economically disastrous, their target is unachievable. Net migration was around 252,000 last year, the vast majority from students: 238,000 visas were issued last year to students coming to study at UK universities, colleges and schools. Surely students, almost all of whom return home after their courses, shouldn't be included in the count?
No such luck. Students are being hit the hardest. Private colleges have been sacrificed with 250 stopping the recruitment of international students and the sector seeing a 70% drop in applications. Now the UKBA is threatening to ban public colleges from recruiting international students.
It's not just colleges. Middlesex University expects a 50% drop in students coming from India. Teesside University was reported yesterday as having their license temporally suspended. The government's own impact assessments predict this might cost the sector £3.6 billion a year - on top of the £6 billion in cuts they're already introducing.
Nevertheless, Immigration Minister Damian Green and Home Secretary Theresa May have insisted that this policy of drastically cutting down student numbers still conforms to the policy of attracting "the brightest and best" and insisting Britain is open for business to "genuine students."
Something is fundamentally wrong with government policy when the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University attacks the new visa rules and worries about their impact. He's not the only one. Universities UK, the Russell Group, the British Council and the Institute of Directors have joined a long list of institutions opposing these changes - for the first time in recent memory, all on the same side as the National Union of Students (NUS). The changes will be brutal, not just for the sector, but for international students who have had their rights stripped away from them, from students in private colleges to PhD students in Russell Group Institutions.
The NUS International Students' Campaign have launched a new social campaign called "Share Your Story." Our goal is to paint a narrative about what's really happening due to government migration policies. Over 1,200 international students have already engaged with the campaign with many sending in their personal stories.
One student missed his uncle's funeral because the UKBA held his passport for weeks. Several mentioned the minor mistakes on visa applications which meant entire applications had to be redone and the visa fee repaid, costing thousands. Another discussed a friend who had to refuse a job and return home because his visa was rejected on trivial grounds. A SOAS student told us a company reneged on her job offer when they learned she was an international student.
The public don't even want these changes. A recent poll by the Migration Observatory found only 30% of respondents favored reducing international student numbers. International students are being victimized purely for political reasons. We're an easy target; but we're not defenseless.
We need to have another public debate on immigration - do UK citizens want a creative, multicultural Britain leading the world in research, or do they want a country that looks like the Conservative back benches?
Before we do, let me clear up some popular misconceptions:
International Students Only Come Here to Work.
The majority of international students study and return home. A very small percentage stay for work experience, then go home. The government's own report on which it launched its policy found that of international students who arrived five years ago only 7% of international students were still in the country working legally. The minute number of bad apples who are reported using the system illegally should be dealt with individually.
International students in HE courses can only work 20 hours a week. Those in FE colleges can only work 10. International students in private colleges now have no working rights.
International students Take University Places from Home Students
This simply isn't how the UCAS system works. International students pay absurd fees. If anything, International students actually subsidise home students.
According to the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, tuition fees alone from international students bring in between £5.3bn and £8bn to the UK economy every year, with further benefits generated by money spent on food, housing, travel and entertainment. International students also bring academic benefits to UK universities. The diverse perspectives we bring to classrooms enrich the learning experience for all and enhance the employability of UK students as global graduates in a highly competitive global marketplace.
If this is not what you want from the government's immigration policy, then help us build momentum with our campaign. Encourage your friends to "Like" the Facebook page. Write your MP. Share Your Story.