I am a lucky one. I come from a Commonwealth country, my native tongue is English, and it was relatively easy for me to acquire a study visa. But for many international students, this is not the case. The challenges are exponential and the experiences differ but we are unified by the atmosphere of exclusion.We make up 21 per cent of all students in Scotland, and 18 per cent of all students across the United Kingdom (UKCISA). That is a lot of students
We are in the midst of a troubling time for international migration, and most news outlets are finally coming around to addressing it. The refugee crisis is a harrowing example of the climate surrounding entry to the United Kingdom, and the Conservative government continues to perpetuate stereotypes and myth. We have all read the headlines: the government has made it harder for international students to not only study at universities across the country, but also to stay and become employed after graduation.Since scrapping the post-study work visa in 2012, the restrictions and hurdles have only grown. Huge changes that will affect international students at UK universities were announced in the Summer Budget this spring and endorsed by Home Secretary Theresa May.
To start, future foreign students will need to prove significantly higher funds on arrival, amounting to up to £11,385 in the bank before starting their course. In addition, stricter rules around academic progression for international students are also being unveiled this year. Study-related extension grants to visas have already fallen by a quarter this year, according to government figures. With more progression restrictions, they will continue to fall.
The conditions around working after graduation have worsened as well. The salary requirement to stay in the UK after graduation on a Tier 2 graduate work visa is already set at an excessive £20,800. Now, the government has appointed the Migration Advisory Committee to look into raising it even further. Spouses and dependants may also face further restrictions on the right to work in the UK.
Incoming first year students are already paying some of the highest tuitions of any students, and now they have been asked to pay an additional £600 surcharge on top of visa fees to access the NHS. Despite matriculating, attending class and participating in societies, international students are required to attend three visa-checks each academic year.
The message in these changes is clear: you can come here and pay the fees, but you are not welcome to stay. The argument heard the most by the government is that international students are stealing the jobs and places of UK students. But in the 2011/12 school year, international students were estimated to have paid £3.9 billion in tuition fees and £6.3 billion in living expenses (GOV). That is a lot of money going into the system, and remaining there. We live, we work, and we contribute to the society and economy in the UK. We make this beautiful country our home while we study, establish connections, and create incredible friendships.
Here at the University of Edinburgh, many of the previous international student groups convenors have fought battles to create a more inclusive environment,including abolishing the yearly 5% hike in tuition fees.
This year I want to continue to fight against these restrictions, but I need your help. We need to change the perception of international students in this country. We need to recognize the individual and group struggle they experience while studying in the UK. We need to alter the way this government treats those students, particularly when it comes to the post study work visa. International students are contributors, innovators and create a positive impact on the country. Why wouldn’t we want them to stay?