Non-EU students be warned: the Home Secretary Theresa May is considering plans to force foreign students to leave the UK after their courses finish.
Currently, students are allowed to stay in Britain for four months after the end of their degrees, and then can switch relatively easily from a student visa to a work visa if they find graduate employment in the UK. However, under the new proposals, non-European Union graduates would have to return home and apply for a work visa from abroad if they want to continue living in Britain.
A source close to the Home Secretary justified the scheme by saying that Making sure immigrants leave Britain at the end of their visa is as important a part of running a fair and efficient immigration system as controlling who comes here in the first place. Many are worried that the current system is being abused, with many students staying in the country illegally; and universities and colleges will risk being fined and stripped of their right to sponsor foreign students if they fail to make sure that they leave the UK.
May wants to include the plans in the Conservative Partys next manifesto, as she believes that Prime Minister David Cameron will be unable to meet his target of reducing net migration if he does not take action on foreign students. However, the plans have been criticized by senior Liberal Democrats, who warned that clamping down on foreign students makes zero economic sense and could deprive the UK of highly skilled talent.
One aide to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg argued that we should not be trying to get rid of people who have spent years training to be physicists and computer programmers. Weve invested a lot in these people and to turf them out for the sake of some figures just doesnt make any sense. Whilst a senior Home Office source tried to vindicate the move by saying that the brightest and best would still be able to come back to the UK, there may also be opposition from within the Conservative Party.
Chancellor George Osborne recently called on Cameron to abandon quotas for immigrants in a recent speech on EU migration on the grounds that it would have an adverse impact on the economy. It is also important to remember that global competition for international students is growing - in April it was revealed that the number of overseas students who had places at Englands universities had decreased by 4,595 in one year, the first fall in 29 years. This included a 50% drop in the number of postgraduate students from India and Pakistan, at a time when we should be encouraging to increase our share of the lucrative global market for higher education.
David Willetts, who left the government in Julys reshuffle, argues that Mrs May is somewhat missing the point: Voters may be unhappy about asylum seekers getting to the top of the housing list or pregnant women flying to Heathrow to give birth on the NHS. But I have never had a complaint about Chinese students studying physics. That is not the problem - and apparently this is not the solution either.