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Why build-up to Brexit may benefit Indian students

Considering the student component as migrants and subjecting it to steps to restrict migration has led to the impression that the UK no longer welcomes international students.

world Updated: Jan 07, 2018 17:41 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Conservative Party,Theresa May,Brexit
There has been an around 50% drop in Indian students in the UK since 2010.(Representational photo)

Whether the United Kingdom leaves the European Union by March 29, 2019 remains shrouded in a haze of politics and bureaucracy, but a soon-to-be introduced immigration bill will likely benefit Indian students keen to study in the country.

The bill, which will be introduced in the House of Commons later this year, will be the occasion to address a key issue that has bedevilled the discourse of international students. It will likely face an amendment to remove international students from net migration figures, thus making them less likely to face measures to restrict overall migration. In fact, there are already signs of some restrictions on them being eased.

Since the Conservative Party came to power in 2010, its aim has been to cut net migration — Indian and other non-EU students have also been part of this sensitive target.

Considering the student component as migrants and subjecting it to steps to restrict migration has not only led to an around 50% drop of Indian students since 2010, but has also led to the impression that the UK no longer welcomes international students. The drop has also been attributed to the closure of bogus colleges.

Three factors have led to the growing cross-party consensus that non-EU students should not be part of the net migration target — official reports reveal most international students return after studies, the need to project a global outlook post-Brexit, and the Theresa May government’s dependence on outside support to remain in office.

A spokesperson for Universities UK, the umbrella organisation for all British universities, told HT: “Two official reports published last summer revealed that there is very high visa compliance by international students. The number of students overstaying their visas is a tiny fraction of previous (incorrect) claims.

“Polling has shown that the British public does not see international students as long-term migrants, but as valuable, temporary visitors. There is now an opportunity to make sure that a reshaped, post-Brexit immigration system encourages qualified international students to choose the UK.

“If the UK wants to remain a top destination for international students and staff, it is more important than ever that we project a welcoming message to talented people from across the world.”

Removing non-EU students from the migration target may not immediately bring back the post-study work visa that was abolished in 2012, but some efforts are already on to make it easier for them to find work here after studies.

A visa pilot introduced in July 2016 at four UK universities has now been extended to 23 more universities, allowing their non-EU students more time to find work after studies. It still remains difficult for non-EU students to secure employment and switch visa categories, but the extension is seen as a positive development.

Recent voting in the House of Commons on Brexit-related bills and amendments reflect the May government’s lack of majority. Rebel Conservative MPs can join hands with others to inflict defeat on government bills, potentially making it less adamant to resist the amendment on non-EU students.

As home secretary since 2010 and now as prime minister, May has resisted the demand to remove non-EU students from the migration target, but newer realities in parliament and compulsions of Brexit are likely to lead to a reconsideration of the key issue.

Recent research suggests that international students generate more than £25 billion annually for the economy and support over 200,000 jobs in communities across the UK. Many cash-strapped universities depend on high-fee paying non-EU students to meet staff and other costs.

First Published: Jan 07, 2018 17:41 IST