Queen's Speech: Will Immigration Bill Deter International Students From Studying In The UK?

The Immigration Bill laid out in the Queen's Speech prompted concerns about deterring international students
The Immigration Bill laid out in the Queen's Speech prompted concerns about deterring international students

A students' leader has implored the government to stop treating international students as a "political football" following the Queen's Speech which laid out proposals for tougher crackdowns on immigrants.

Measures to control immigration are at the heart of the government's legislative agenda for the coming year, including restricting access to the NHS for illegal immigrants and making it easier to deport people from the UK.

Daniel Stevens, international students officer at the National Union of Students (NUS), expressed concern the renewed focus on cracking down on immigrants would deter foreign students from considering studying in the UK.

He told the Huffington Post UK: "Yet again the government have demonstrated the huge gap between their professed enthusiasm for international students and the reality of policy. International students are an important addition to UK universities but the government continues to make them feel unwelcome with ever more onerous restrictions."

On Wednesday, the Queen told MPs and peers an Immigration Bill will aim to "ensure that this country attracts people who will contribute and deter those who will not".

Measures in the Bill will regulate migrant access to the NHS and ensure that temporary visitors make a contribution, prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining driving licences, introduce tougher fines for businesses using illegal labour, and require private landlords to check the immigration status of tenants.

The Bill will make it easier to remove people from the UK, limiting rights to appeal against deportation and specifying that all foreign nationals convicted of serious crimes will be removed except in "extraordinary circumstances". Legal force will be given to changes to rules announced by Theresa May to prevent the abuse of the right to family life by those seeking to avoid deportation.

Stevens added: "The Home Office have set arbitrary targets for reducing immigration and international students are a soft target despite the huge academic, cultural and financial contributions they make to their universities and the communities in which they live.

"Ministers must stop treating international students like a political football by recognising their value to the UK and removing them from immigration statistics."

Hamza Jawaid, an undergraduate and international students' officer at the London School of Economics, told HuffPost UK overseas students are "already apprehensive" about coming to the UK to study.

"Increasing their costs of living and studying in the UK is only going to deter international students," he said. "Keeping in mind the scrapping of Post Study Work visa, international students are already apprehensive about making such a big investment for three years and facing the possibility of not being able to work or look for attractive work opportunities after studying.

"I have personally encountered many prospective students indifferent between a relatively high ranked UK university and an average Canadian/American university. Scrapping of the Post study work visa, introduction of mandatory student interviews for visa applications in many countries and increasingly stringent application process have all created a general perception that it is no longer viable to opt to study in UK.

"After all it is a big monetary investment and having little or no return on that investment is a big deterrent," Jawaid, who describes himself as a "proud Pakistani", continued "Since the past couple of years and given the current economic climate, international students feel under a constant threat and a sense of insecurity while or choosing to study in the UK.

"It is absolutely imperative for the government to rethink its stance on international students and not deal with it in the same manner that it does with the general immigrant bracket."

Jawaid, who has been in the UK for a year, said he had come to "respect and admire the excellence of British educational institutions", and added: "It will be highly unfortunate that these world class universities begin being viewed as unwelcoming places for eager and talented students from around the world."

Several MPs, including Boris Johnson, have already appealed to the government to be more welcoming to international students and exclude them from migration targets.

On a trip to India in 2012, the Mayor of London said: "The policy on visas is, in my view, sending out the wrong signal. There are so many stipulations that we are starting to lose business to Australia, America and Canada.

"As I have written several times to the home secretary, we need to see a strong statement of welcome to make sure that the visa system is not a deterrent to international students."

A quick poll by HuffPost UK in January showed the majority of our readers felt overseas students shouldn't be included in net migration numbers.

In a letter to David Cameron, the chairmen of five select committees, including home affairs, business and public accounts committees, urged "further action to encourage international university students to study in the UK".

The letter, sent to the prime minister earlier this year, read: "Doing so has the potential to support economic growth in the immediate and longer term, supporting jobs in university towns and increasing export earnings," the letter read.

"International students who study in the UK also build relationships which last over time, laying the foundations for future business opportunities in emerging economies, and supporting our foreign policy objectives."

The PM was also asked to reconcile the "remaining tensions between visa policy and aspirations for growth by removing international students from the net migration target".

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: "Our recent survey of universities' international student recruitment showed that new enrolments [the clearest indicator of future numbers] have remained broadly flat this year.

"This is clear evidence that there is now a need for more joined up thinking and better messaging in terms of international students."

She added: "Many live in shared, student accommodation, which places less burden on council services. And owing to their age profile, they are less likely to require NHS care or have dependants.

"If the government's aim is to make the UK a country that attracts people who will contribute, they need look no further than international students and international university staff."