Following a raft of student visa clampdowns, the UK is now launching a global charm offensive to convince foreign students it is “not against immigration”, Damian Green has said.
The Home Office Immigration Minister said it was “essential” to “shift the perception”, after recent rule changes, that the doors were closed to non-EU students.
“Please come, we have got some of the world’s best universities,” he said.
Mr Green is under pressure from business and university chiefs to relax visa restrictions to stop the shift away from UK universities.
There have been calls for foreign students to be exempted from the government’s target of reducing net migration from its current level of about 250,000 a year to “tens of thousands” by 2015.
But MPs on the Commons business select committee were told it was too early to say with certainty that the government’s policy had significantly damaged UK universities.
And it was often the perception that Britain was now tough on immigration – rather than the reality of its actual policies – that was acting as a deterrent to elite foreign students.
Simon Walker, director general of the Institute for Directors, said: “Remarks that are made in Westminster, or around the country, that go do down quite well locally are often on the front page of The Times of India and the New Straits Times the next day, because of the internet, and the impacts on this on perceptions of Britain are quite strong.”
However, international students graduating from a 3 year degree course in the summer of 2012 only to find that the Post Study Work Visa was cancelled (in April 2012) will argue that there is more than a mere ‘perception’ of an anti-student policy.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of UK Universities, said she could “live with” with any one of the government’s immigration policies taken in isolation even if some, such as a minimum salary of £20,000 for post-study work visas, appeared overly tough to some potential undergraduate or graduate students.
But, she argued, it was the “aggregate” of the changes and the way they had been implemented that was in danger of putting Britain at a disadvantage to its major higher education competitors such as the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
“We are viewed as being at the more stringent end of the spectrum and that’s a question of substance as well as perception,” she told MPs.
She added that there had been an increase in the number of Chinese students “which is completely wonderful”, but they tended to study business and management and there were signs that students from Brazil and India, who tended to study scientific and technical subjects, were increasingly choosing countries that appeared more welcoming.
“We cannot say it’s only the government’s policies but the atmospherics, the way this is playing internationally, which is, I think, causing real problems,” she added.
Mr Green insisted that Britain’s universities would not be harmed by the government’s visa restrictions, which he said were mainly aimed at closing down “bogus colleges” and preventing students without a job from staying in the country and “claiming benefits” after they had finished their course.
But he also appeared to concede that the government’s anti-immigration rhetoric was going down badly in Britain’s target higher education markets.
Asked how much work was being done by the government to change the perception that the UK had turned against foreign students, he said: “A lot.”
“And it’s slightly swimming against the tide because, if the thought is out there that we have changed the system to make it more unfriendly, then reversing that perception is important and difficult but very, very essential.
“We have changed the system to cut out the abuse, we have changed the system to skew it towards the best students, skew it towards universities.
“But doing that at the same time as cutting out abuse is a nuanced message to send out.”
He said now that the changes were in place “I think the sensible thing to do is to let the system bed down while we relentlessly go round the world saying the brightest students and the best are as welcome as ever to Britain”. Source: BBC
The Home Office is finally waking up to the fact that Britain cannot afford to rest on its reputation as a leading student desitination, as other countries, in Europe, as well as the likes of Australia and Canada are ‘snapping at our heals’.
Some universities have reported a 40% fall in international students
Tough anti-immigration rhetoric and visa restrictions are not helping, as UK universities heads complained to the government last month.
The latest warning came from 68 university chancellors who claimed that the UK’s Tier 4 visa immigration policy risked damaging the UK universities and genuine students could be discouraged from applying.
Universities UK, which represents 134 higher education institutions, recently cautioned that Britain will lose billions of pounds unless the coalition urgently abandons new immigration rules for overseas students.
Some universities have reported a 40% fall in international students and could now face downsizing or even closure.
At a conference in February on how immigration policies are affecting universities, Professor Julia King, the vice-chancellor of Aston University, said her institution had recorded a 39% fall in the number of applications from Indian students this year compared with last.
As a result, her institution had £3m less income, which was “quite significant for an institution with a £120m turnover”. Birmingham’s economy would suffer at least a £6m loss as a result, she told the conference.
Universities believe David Willetts, the higher education minister, understands the problem, but ministers at the Home Office look at migration “from an entirely different lens”, Thomas said.
In China and India – the UK’s first and second biggest markets for overseas students – Britain is seen as “putting up barriers to entry”, he said. “The UK seems to be telling the world that it doesn’t welcome international students.
“Meanwhile, a number of other countries, such as Australia and Germany, are looking at making themselves more welcoming. The soft power of overseas students for our country is considerable. These students go back to their countries and become serious players.”
In May MPs were told that universities and colleges are spending millions of pounds to navigate the government’s “Kafkaesque” student visa rules, according to a report by the Guardian.
An institution such as the London School of Economics spends £250,000 a year trying to understand regulations governing the entry of non-European Union students, the public accounts committee heard.
Immigration Matters has reported on hundreds of how students enrolled on degrees at private colleges were being left penniless and stranded as institutions closed because visa restrictions made their businesses unprofitable or impossible to run.
Tier 4 students whose college has closed down find that they have just 60 days from UKBA’s notification to find an alternative college or to go home. And an alternative college meant paying out for another visa and another set of fees – and show available funds having lost most of it on their former college.
The UKBA gives zero consideration for lost funds, and if you are a penny short of the required amount you will be refused and told to ‘go home’.
Whilst the UK lauches a ‘charm offensive’ to attract more students, thousands are forced to leave because they need a new visa just to change college.
In many cases stranded students cannot even gain entry to another institution because they cannot obtain certificates and references from their defunct college.
Anecdotal evidence from immigration advisers suggest an upsurge in immigration and visa appeal cases, as more refusals are dished out for cases which they say would have been granted in the past.
With a combination of high local fees and new visa rules deterring overseas students, many are predicting that some UK Universities may be forced to close.
Despite the abolition of student visa appeal rights, following the introduction of Tier 4 of the points based system in 2009, Tribunal hearing centres such as Taylor House and Hatton Cross First Tier are as busy as ever.
If your visa or other entry clearance for the United Kingdom (UK) has been refused, you may wish to make an appeal to the Immigration and Asylum Tribunal (IAT) First Tier Tribunal, formerly known as the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (AIT).
If you need any immigration advice or help with Sponsorship or Work Permits, Visa, ILR/Settlement, Citizenship, dependant visa or an appeal against a refusal please email:
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