If Theresa May has her way, I'll be deported in two months - never mind the five years I spent earning two prestigious British degrees and the £70,000 I took out in loans. This week the toughest restrictions yet for non-EU students were announced: we'll be banned from working during our studies and forced to leave the country as soon as our courses end. In the eyes of the home secretary, I'm an American cash cow to be put to pasture.
The government has called it a "crackdown on visa fraud" that will be presented to MPs next week to be enacted this autumn. Immigration minister James Brokenshire said student visas are being abused as a "backdoor to a British work visa". Many obstacles stand between Tories and their target to reduce net migration, but there are very few that they're so happy to milk - £8bn in tuition fees each year, to be exact - while shunning them with tighter restrictions year after year.
It's infuriating that looking for UK work with my UK education is so suspicious to the home office. The irony is that I'm exactly the kind of person the government should be trying to keep. I moved from the midwest of America at the age of 18 to St Andrews for my undergraduate degree. I got a degree, and then I got another. Not only are my connections and education British, but so are my friends and boyfriend. I can't see a future elsewhere, but if I don't find a job in two months, I'm gone. The likely possibility of being deported terrifies me. It's what kept me up at night for the last year.
The new rules rest on the claim that foreign students abuse the system and leech on hardworking taxpayers. What abuse? It ignores the truth that non-EU students need to be relatively well off to study here. One of the many requirements for my visa included having £10k resting in my bank account for 12 weeks. I then paid twice as much as my British classmates for tuition at £18,000 a year.
I am not the only one. Like some pesky yet lucrative epidemic, the government estimates that 121,000 foreign students entered the country in the last year but only 51,000 left with a net influx of 70,000. The figures don't mention that undergraduate degrees are at least three years long, not to mention PhD students. Non-EU students are an easy scapegoat. But according to Sheffield University alone, international students brought a net contribution of £120m into the local economy and £136m into the wider region of Yorkshire. Less than 10% of students stay and work in the area after graduation.
International students are treated like criminals from the onset. Mandatory physical check ins and grade reports are required each semester as if we're on probation. The home office enacted face-to-face credibility interviews in 2013 although a student visa takes months, thousands of pounds and a mountain of documents to obtain.
What's even more insulting is the immigration minister's statement yesterday: "Immigration offenders want to sell illegal access to the UK jobs market and there are plenty of people willing to buy." I'm not a criminal. I'm educated and want to work. Having just graduated with a second MA, I have to find an employer that will pay at least £20,500 yearly and sponsor a work visa - a long, complicated legal process that costs thousands no matter if the visa is successful or not.
In comparison, international students in the US, Australia and Canada are allowed to stay for up to 12 months to find a job. The post-study work visa in the UK that allowed graduates to stay in the country for up to two years was abolished in 2012. The window to find work is too slim and is growing even smaller.
The government is doing everything it can to push thousands of highly skilled and hardworking young people out. What's a foreign graduate to do? I seethe with every continuous restriction, but once my rage haze clears, I'm hurt. I have loved living here for the last five years. My life is here. There is no good reason for me to leave.