Last month, a cross party Early Day Motion (EDM), tabled by Paul Blomfield (MP), was introduced to Parliament in support of international students and calling for international students to be taken out targets to reduce net migration. As the representative of international students in the UK, I should be happy. Well, I am happy, but I could be happier.
As Paul Blomfield, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Students and the APPG on Migration, rightly recognises in this EDM, international students being in a net migration target is a justified concern for international students, universities, colleges (though college students are not mentioned in the EDM) and the sector as a whole. In this political climate where the race to reduce immigration seems to ignore public opinion, economic facts and a general sense of the equal treatment of human beings, this EDM sends an important message - as does the fact that, so far, 75 MPs from across the political spectrum have signed it.
But I would be happier still if the next step was to end arbitrary migration targets which are based on nothing more than counting people in and out, and doing it poorly. Reducing the net-migration target has been an impossible goal, and has not succeeded in reducing the number of immigrants from "hundreds of thousands" to "tens of thousands" before the General Election 2015.
While this target includes all migrants, few groups are affected as much as non-EU international students. We are the only group which is so heavily impacted by policies which seek to impact not only our visas but where we choose to study. To validate the government's populist anti-immigrant rhetoric, they have threatened over 60,000 of us with deportation by removing our colleges or accusing us of criminal activity on no evidence. Many of us stand to lose tens of thousands of pounds for doing nothing wrong. From the London Met crisis in 2012 to the sponsorship licence revocations since June 2014, thousands of international students have been made the scapegoats to meet the net migration target.
One of NUS' demands for the general election is not just to take international students out of net migration target but to scrap the target all together. It is an ineffective and unattainable goal which not only hurts Britain but especially hurts the real people, like international students and other migrants. I do not have to repeat the facts and figures here, which demonstrate that immigration has a net benefit to Britain's economy and society.
We have seen immigrants in various guises: NHS doctors and nurses, cleaners, university lecturers and students, McDonald's workers and managers, fashion designers, refugees and computer engineers. There is no archetypal - 'immigrant X'. But what we have common amongst ourselves is the experience of leaving one's home country and coming here to the UK, and is the same as anyone from the UK who travels abroad for a new experience. The argument seems so simple - British society is benefitting, immigrants are benefitting. Factually, immigrants are beneficial, practically they are people who deserve the same chances in life as anyone else. So, why is there so much anti-immigrant rhetoric everywhere we look? It is nothing more than discrimination based on where someone was born, and it's wrong.
EDM 739 (signed by 68 MPs) does not perfectly agree with our demand of scrapping net migration totally, but its proposal to take out international students is very welcome. In an adverse political climate like now, where politicians are racing to beat right-wing parties to the right, we welcome a cross party group of MPs coming out to support international students and standing up against the absurdity of including international students in net migration targets. It is a progressive step in the right direction, but let's push the debate further by asking the politicians to support all immigrants, after all, an international student becomes your skilled worker, or international entrepreneur of tomorrow.
NUS knows that this anti-immigration environment is not healthy. It's not healthy for all students, not just those who are part of the migration target. To understand just how this is impacting students is undertaking an anti-xenophobia research to delve into the experiences of xenophobia students face. Whether you are a home student or an international student, please feel free to complete our survey so that NUS can understand and better campaign against the xenophobia students experience in future.
Britain is on the cusp of making history in the upcoming general election. It will either look back at May 2015 with regret or with great pride. With immigration one of the major issues debated in this election, I appeal to students in particular to lead British society against xenophobic attitudes and make this general election about fairness and equality of opportunity. As many students will vote for the first time this May, make it one to remember by saying no to xenophobia and yes to a multicultural and diverse future for Britain.