Student Visas: A summary of the Migration Advisory Committee’s briefing paper for international students

In August 2017 the Home Office commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (an independent body that advises the UK Government on migration issues) to assess the impact of international students in the UK. The briefing paper only examined international students from Higher Education due to the lack of availability of data pertaining to international students from Further Education, English Language schools and Independent schools.

The information contained in this summary is based on the actual briefing paper, which can be accessed by the link provided:
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/649450/Student_Commission_-_briefing_paper.pdf

 

The number of international students entering the UK

The UK is a popular study destination for international students and every year thousands of international students enter the UK with a study-related visa. The latest data by the ONS International Passenger Survey, which publishes information on the number of migrants entering the UK at any given time, showed that 139,000 international students had arrived in the UK, for a period of one year or more, in the 12 months to March 2017.

 

A total of 213,729 study-related visas were granted in the 12 months to June 2017, an increase of 4% on the previous year; and 142,128 long-term study-related visas, excluding dependants, were granted in the 12 months to March 2017 – an increase of 5% from the earlier year. The briefing paper further shows that the majority (around 80%) of study-related visas were granted to higher education students, which had increased from 50% in the 12 months to June 2011. However, the number and share of international students at territory or further education institutions had decreased considerably from 35% in 2011 but had then increased to 7% in the 12 months to June 2017.

 

The action taken by international students following the end of their visa was also focused on. The briefing paper highlighted that 69% of international students who migrated on a long-term visa and whose visa or extension of leave had expired in 2016-2017 had left the UK in time before the expiration of their visa. Furthermore, 26% of international students had opted to extend their visa in order to remain in the UK for further study or for other reasons such as employment. Yet a minority of 4% of non-EU students whose visas were due to expire in 2016-17 had no evidence of leaving the UK. The briefing paper emphasised that this did not necessarily mean that they had outstayed their visas.

 

Despite the overall high figures, international student migration has actually declined in comparison to the other reasons for which foreigners enter the UK. In a one-year period from March 2009-2010, a drop of 235,000 (40%) was seen, registering 24% for the latest period. The decline was attributable to operational and policy changes. Specifically, between May 2010 and October 2014, 836 UK educational providers were stripped of their licences in response to a clampdown on abuse of the student visa route.

 

The number of international students living in the UK

According to the data by The Higher Education Statistics Agency, there are 2.3 million international students in higher education in the UK, of which 14% are non-EU students (around 310,000) and 6% are EU students (around 130,000).

Additionally, whilst 38% of postgraduate students are international students, 29% are non-EU students and only 9% are EU students.

It was further found that international students were mostly found to be at Russell Group Universities rather than the so-called Post-1992 Universities. Russell Group Universities make up 24 “world-class research-intensive universities”[i] whilst Post-1992 Universities comprise those new universities created by John Major’s government in 1992. The average number of international students was almost 7,500 for Russell Group Universities in comparison with an average of just over 3,000 for Post-1992 Universities. An average of just over 1,500 accounted for all other universities.

 

The share of international students was found to differ markedly by subject areas. Subjects such as Business and Administrative Studies, and Engineering and Technology were popular amongst international students, whereas subjects allied to Medicine, Biological Sciences and Education were more likely to be studied by indigenous students.

 

Impact

The briefing paper notes that foreign students’ greatest impact is their monetary contribution to the UK economy. This may not seem entirely surprising since university fees for international students are set higher than for UK students.  Further boosts to the UK economy come from foreign students’ outlay on food, accommodation, leisure and travel. A recent study by Universities UK, a representative organisation for UK universities, suggests that in 2014-2015 international students generated £25.8 billion in gross output for the UK economy. Universities UK also found that “on- and off-campus spending by international students and their visitors support 206,600 full-time equivalent jobs nationally”. Alongside this financial contribution, international students are said to also bring social and cultural benefits to the UK. According to a paper entitled, ‘Russell Group response to Home of Commons Education Committee injury: The impact of exiting the EU on Higher Education’, UK students are believed to benefit from “learning in an internationally diverse environment as they experience different values and beliefs, [thus] increasing their intercultural awareness”[ii]. The paper further highlighted the benefits of learning alongside students from around the world in developing “social skills and networks”[iii] and preparing “UK students in multicultural Britain for work and travel overseas, and in particular for future collaborative work and business activity with overseas partners’ markets essential for the UK’s global ambitions”[iv].

Conversely, a recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has indicated that this financial fillip may come at the expense of increased pressure on the nation’s education and training system, as well as on the housing market and public services. Even so, EU students were found to make lighter use of education, healthcare and social services than the average UK resident.

 

Staying on in the UK

With the tightening in 2007 of the immigration rules for post-study work and the UK’s recession post-2008, a decline in the number of international students staying in the UK after their studies was indicated. The briefing paper states that the events above could have reduced the incentive for students to remain and seek work in the UK. Whilst there was a fall of 31% of international students remaining in the UK between 2004 and 2010, in 2015 29% of total grants were for international students remaining in the UK permanently and seeking work.

 

Conclusion

The Migration Action Committee has made it clear in their briefing paper that more work is required to improve the quality of available data to deepen the evidence base on the impact of student migration on the UK economy. Therefore, the figures supplied by the Migration Action Committee in their briefing paper may need to be taken with a ‘pinch of salt’ for the time being in understanding the impact international students have on the UK.

 

With Brexit shadowing the UK, the figures the Migration Action Committee have used in the briefing paper could see a drop. Whilst EU students are still able to enter the UK for study purposes, the study shows that non-EU students have already begun to turn away from the UK and consider other countries with renowned universities, such as the USA and Australia. Additionally, Nigel Carrington, vice-chancellor of University of the Arts in London, has seen indications that some EU students sense that they’re now ‘less welcome’ than before, with a small but notable drop in the number taking up university places[v]. The actual impact Brexit will have on the number of international students entering the UK to study is of course yet to be seen, but Brexit, when it happens, will likely see the number of international students entering the UK decrease.

 

[i] Russell Group, ‘Our universities’, < http://russellgroup.ac.uk/about/our-universities/>, accessed: 8th January 2018

[ii] Russell Group, ‘Russell Group response to House of Commons Education Committee inquiry: The impact of exiting the EU on Higher Education’, page 5< https://russellgroup.ac.uk/media/5448/russell-group-response-to-hoc-education-committee-inquiry-the-impact-of-exiting-the-european-union-on-higher-education-november-2016.pdf>, accessed: 7th January 2018

[iii] ibid

[iv]ibid

[v] Tess Reidy, ‘Anxious international students turn away from UK’, (4th January 2017, The Guardian), <https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/jan/04/anxious-international-students-turn-away-from-uk>, accessed: 7th January 2018

Change and Concern for UK Student Visas and Migration

Change and Concern for UK Student Visas and Migration

The UK government under Theresa May has made changes in recent years to student visa rules as part of a wider strategy to reduce immigration within the UK. Theresa May has been extensively criticized for including international students in immigration figures. Brexit and the planned new immigration strategy for the UK, as part of the Brexit deal, is also likely to affect both EU and Non-EU students considering studying in the UK.

What are the UK visa criteria for International or Non-EU students?

Non-EU International students must meet certain criteria to study in the UK and must obtain a Tier 4 (General) Student Visa.

To apply for a Tier 4 (General) Student Visa you must:

  • have been offered a place on a course with a licensed Tier 4 sponsor
  • be able to speak, read, write and understand English
  • be able to support yourself financially, and pay for your course
  • be from a non-EEA country or Switzerland
  • apply no sooner than 3 months prior to the start of your course

Tier 4 Student Visas are usually decided quickly, often within 3 weeks, and currently cost £335.  There are additional fees for dependents, and a healthcare surcharge for you, and any dependents. There are rules about dependents, the type of course, the institution you are studying with, work and access to public services.

After you graduate, if you are considering taking a permanent job in the UK, to do so you would need to move to a Tier 2 Visa with an eligible employer and role.

What are the criteria for EU citizens wanting to study in the UK

EU citizens are currently free to study in the UK with the same criteria as other EU citizens visiting, working and living in Britain. They can take advantage of a cap on tuition fees, and tuition fee loans in the same way as UK students. Non-EU students do not have these advantages.

In April 2017, the government confirmed EU students applying for university places in the 2018-2019 academic year will remain eligible for financial support. The financial support comes in terms of the fee caps, loans, and grants available and would be valid for the period of study even if that continues, and ends, after the Brexit break. There are certain criteria for eligibility to financial benefits, depending on the length of time students have lived in either the UK or EEA.

What happens for potential EU students after the 2018-2019 intake remains to be decided. Students beginning their studies after the 2018-2019 period may be subject to the post-Brexit immigration changes, and policy, which have yet to be created.

What do the statistics say? Originating countries of students studying in the UK.

The Higher Education Statistics Agency’s latest figures on International student statistics were released in January 2017 for the year 2015-2016. The complete figures can be found here:

https://institutions.ukcisa.org.uk/Info-for-universities-colleges–schools/Policy-research–statistics/Research–statistics/International-students-in-UK-HE/#International-(non-UK)-students-in-UK-HE-in-2015-16

Of the figures, in the order greatest first, the top ten EU sending countries were: Germany, France, Italy, the Republic of Ireland, Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Romania, Bulgaria and lastly Poland. For non-EU students, again greatest first, the top ten reads: China, Malaysia, the USA, India, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Thailand and Canada.

Britain has always been a first choice for many international students, however less welcoming government policies, Brexit, and the threat of stricter immigration rules means that many students are looking elsewhere. America, Canada and Australia are popular destinations. Though the USA is falling in popularity under the Donald Trump presidency.

By December 2015 the number of non-EU student arrivals had fallen to a nine-year low of 167,000.  Thought provokingly, the estimated figures are that international students add £7 billion per year to the UK economy. Not to mention the benefits to UK industry of attracting the world’s top talent within reach of employer’s skill shortages.

UK PM Theresa May draws criticism as actual figures for student visa over stayers are released.

Theresa May has been determined to include foreign students in the government immigration figures and planned reductions. The UK government, in explaining the reasoning behind this, seems to have overestimated the number of students who illegally overstay their student visas. Estimates for years prior to 2016 were close to 100,000. Actual figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for 2016 showed that just 4,600 students overstayed their visas.

Those opposing Theresa May believe students should be excluded from the immigration figures and targets, as most return home after studying. They also believe the benefits of international students, both whilst they are studying and when they reach industry, whether in the UK or not, far outweigh any concerns.

Some wonder if the damage to the UK economy and its universities has been done as total immigration figures post Brexit have halved.

Should applicants expect problems in obtaining a student visa in the UK?

Generally, the UK application and visa process is known to be a positive experience. Conversely, there have been recent reports of International students finding their UK student visa application problematic.

Study International broke a story on September 5th of unexpected visa delays for students from Hong Kong. Actual figures are undetermined but comments from lawyers and the British consulate in Hong Kong indicate hundreds of students may have been affected by late granting of their visas. Though UK universities have been accommodating, some students missed important first classes.

Find the full story here: https://www.studyinternational.com/news/visa-delays-leave-hundreds-hong-kong-students-risk-losing-place-uk-unis/#VAsxeRQvdU8LqOSb.97

Earlier this month the Guardian published the story of Oxford student Brian White, who won his right to stay in the UK and study after a long battle. There had been concern over his immigration status. This led to a national campaign and an eventual grant of indefinite leave to remain. Brian feels the visa processing system is confusing for those without legal help. Brian’s personal case made for a potentially more complicated visa application than some. However, cases like Brian’s serve to highlight the changes occurring within Britain’s immigration policies to potential new students and migrants to the UK.

Find the full story here: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/sep/10/oxford-student-stay-uk-visa-process-transparent-brian-white