As many international students in the UK prepare for a Christmas period alone, because we cannot afford to fly back to see our families, the news of Theresa May's plans to deport us upon graduation comes as a low blow.
This comes just days after hundreds of us rallied outside the Home Office on International Migrants Day to demand an end to deportations and the mistreatment of migrants. It is an unsurprising announcement however, given the Government's numerous pernicious attacks on international students over the past few years.
The first strike was the repealing of the Post-Study Work Visa in April 2012, which stripped international students of the possibility of staying in the UK two years after finishing their studies. This was, of course, done without any prior notice, leaving students like myself who came to study in the UK in the hope to gain some experience after graduating, with few options. Later that year came the revocation of London Metropolitan University's sponsorship, which threatened thousands of students with deportation. This led to many institutions installing unnecessary attendance monitoring systems for international students. In its extreme form, daily biometric checks took place to prove the attendance of these students- a practice which still continues today in some establishments.
With the new immigration bill soon to come into effect, there is more bad news on its way. The NHS will no longer be free for overseas students, who will be expected to pay £150 per year to gain access to a GP. This new bill can add £3,000 to the visa application fee of a Postgraduate Research student who would have to pay the £150/year levy for each dependant they bring.
Then there are checks that landlords will undertake before renting to us, already being rolled out in West Midlands. Naturally, given the variety and complexity of visas, many landlords would prefer to rent to British citizens to save themselves the trouble. This new law, and the wider rhetoric of 'welfare tourism', is putting international students and other migrants at a great disadvantage when accessing health, housing and education: three things which ought to be a human right.
The irony, of course, is that we are quite the opposite of an 'economic burden'. We pay thousands more in tuition fees and do not have access to any public funds. A 2011 research by department for business, innovation and skills shows the income brought to the UK by international students was £14billion. On average, each international student contribute over £22,000 a year in tuition fees and living costs, which feeds into the UK economy. Migrants arrive with £0 in debt to the government. We have never used the NHS nor gone to school in this country. We may not have contributed to the economy until we booked our flights over, but we also have not used any services.
In fact, from the second we step in to the UK, life is made difficult. I will never forget the humiliating, 8 hour long queue I had to endure to register with the police, or the border agency staff member who told me it is because of people like me that this country has poverty and crime. Nor can I forget the woman at the Croydon home office centre, crying as she was told she cannot live with her husband because she doesn't earn enough money to sponsor him.
It is no surprise that the number of international students has dropped by 6% in the last year. This is the first time in 29 years that this number has dropped, and the current policy landscape looks sure to see it continue.
Although the government holds this reduction as a success, the department for business, innovation and skills, is looking for ways to increase the number of international students, as their financial and technological benefits are apparent.
Despite the ongoing attacks, international students are resilient. We will organise and fight these measures as we have done time and time again. But as a general election beckons, one which many of us are unable to partake in, we require support from home students and those beyond education, too. I implore all those who believe this country is a better place with international students and other migrants to do what they can to fight the anti-migrant rhetoric, which has hijacked mainstream politics in this country. Threaten all you like Theresa May; we are ready to fight, and here to stay.