The UK home secretary has promised to reconsider whether international students should be included in net migration targets and will review the cap of skilled working visas, after acknowledging this creates hostility.
Currently, international students are included in the UK’s net migration figures which Theresa May’s government is trying to reduce.
Sajid Javid, the UK’s Home Secretary as of April 2018, told the BBC that he ‘empathised’ with the view the immigration policy creates an unwelcoming atmosphere for students.
Brexit has caused widespread anxiety among international students, as it signals cultural intolerance and threatens uncertainty over fees and visa rights.
He added that international students often leave the country after their studies so they should have no long-term impact; “there is a perception problem around this,” he said, also stating, “it’s something I’ve long considered.”
This could see more international students welcomed to the UK if they are no longer included in the UK’s migration targets, and potentially better post-study work opportunities if the annual 20,700 cap on skilled working visas is relaxed.
“It is something that I’m taking a fresh look at…and I hope to think about this more carefully and see what can be done,” said Javid.
Universities UK welcomed the home secretary’s comment, claiming it will position the UK as a welcoming place for international students, according to Times Higher Education (THE).
“Removing students from the net migration target would be a positive policy change as part of a package of measures to signal that the UK is a welcoming destination for international students. We welcome the home secretary’s commitment to review this issue,” a spokesperson for Universities UK said.
Students from overseas are valued members of the UK’s academic community, making up almost 20 percent of the UK student body according to a report by the thinktank, Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI).
“Overseas students are indispensable for world-class universities,” says a report by the prestigious Russell Group, representing 24 leading UK institutions.
“They contribute to a diverse student body and a thriving society, culture and economy – on campus, in local regions and across the whole UK.”
Hollie Chandler, Senior Policy Analyst at the Russell Group, added that while “there is no limit on the number of international students who can come to the UK, including them in the target is unhelpful and sends the wrong message to prospective students abroad,” according to THE.
International students contributed GB£20 billion (US$27 billion) to the UK economy in 2018, according to the HEPI report.
“International students bring economic benefits to the UK that are worth 10 times the costs of hosting them,” Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, told the BBC in reference to the report.
“Fewer international students would mean a lot fewer jobs in all areas of the UK, because international students spend money in their universities, in their local economies.”
“Sajid Javid should take the lead on this and support universities by committing to remove international students from the net migration target altogether.” – Sally Hunt responds to home secretary's comments on overseas students https://t.co/EEPGUePBWO via @timeshighered
— UCU (@ucu) June 4, 2018
Sally Hunt, General Secretary of the University and College Union, told THE it was “encouraging” Javid is aware the current policy can seem hostile to international students.
“However, we need that policy looked at again as a priority,” she said. “Our universities’ international student recruitment is a huge success story because overseas students are attracted by the quality of higher education available. International students make an enormous contribution to UK higher education both educationally and economically.”