The British government is considering further restrictions on student visas in line with its often-stated goal to reduce net migration to the UK. In a 4 October speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said that the government will shortly open consultations on student immigration policy.
She also set out a case for two-tiered visa system, where visa policy is linked to the quality of the program or institution: “I’m passionately committed to making sure our world-leading institutions can attract the brightest and the best. But a student immigration system that treats every student and university as equal only punishes those we should want to help.”
“So our consultation will ask what more can we do to support our best universities – and those that stick to the rules – to attract the best talent … while looking at tougher rules for students on lower quality courses…We need to look at whether this one size fits all approach really is right for the hundreds of different universities, providing thousands of different courses across the country.”
Ms Rudd did not expand further on the characteristics of higher or lower-quality institutions. But her remarks follow on earlier comments from Nick Timothy, Prime Minister Theresa May’s chief of staff, who suggested that post-graduation work rights should be constrained to those foreign students who attend the country’s top-ranked Russell Group universities. Indeed, the British government launched a pilot program on 25 July offering streamlined visa processing, and extended post-study stays, for master’s students at four top-ranked universities.
The following guidance from the British Home Office sets out the parameters of the pilot:
If you are applying to study a Masters course for 13 months or less (excluding the duration of any pre-sessional course) at the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, University of Bath or Imperial College London, you are eligible to participate in the Tier 4 pilot. This includes if you are applying from both outside and inside the UK.
Participating in the pilot allows you to:
– stay longer after the end of the course – the total length of stay you are allowed is the full length of the course plus six months after the end of the course;
– submit fewer evidential documents with your application – you will not be required to submit certificates or documents showing your previous qualifications or transcript of results and documents showing you meet the maintenance requirements.
In a letter circulated to UK universities, the Home Office adds that the four pilot universities were “selected due to their consistently low level of visa refusals. The pilot is intentionally narrow in scope in order to monitor the pilot outcomes against the stated objectives and to minimize the risk of unintended consequences before considering rolling it out more widely.” The letter underscores as well that the goal of the pilot is to “test the benefits of a differentiated approach within Tier 4, whilst ensuring that any changes do not undermine the robust application of immigration requirements.”
“Polling has shown that the British public does not see international students as long-term migrants, but as valuable, temporary visitors. International students come to the UK, study for a period, and then the overwhelming majority go home after their studies.”
Finally, a related analysis from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) argues that the British government is greatly overstating the numbers of non-EU students who remain in the country after their studies. The IPPR estimates that less than 40,000 non-EU migrants, who previously entered the UK as students, are still in the country after five years. This compares to government estimates of 90,000 students who remain, a figure which the IPPR concludes is not “not reliable enough to be used as a guide for policy.”