The London Metropolitan University's immigration saga - In context

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Over the past few years, the British Government has stepped up its efforts to restrict migrants coming into the UK in an effort to ensure that UK nationals are not being overlooked for employment in favour of overseas nationals. The "Immigration Cap" has been a key policy objective.

Alongside changes to restrict the ability of employers to import skilled workers, there have also been changes made in relation to students and education providers that were intended to help meet the aims of reducing overseas nationals working in the UK. Part of those changes has meant an increase in the responsibility of education providers in relation to their "sponsored" students. These responsibilities include reporting absences, failure to enrol etc.

The Government has though a series of changes: limited the types of study that can be undertaken by overseas students; required education providers who offer courses to overseas students to have a licence; and raised the level of compliance they must meet. In line with the controls imposed on employers, education providers are now responsible for ensuring that their students remain compliant with the Immigration Rules and are obliged to report default which includes non-attendance. Furthermore, the Government has raised the level of English language ability required as well as the level of savings students must have before being able to enter the country.

They have tasked immigration officers at border control to ensure that students meet these criteria. The number of hours students can work have been reduced for non-degree courses and students are no longer able to apply for a visa that allows them to work in the UK for two years after completing their studies. There are also additional restrictions limiting the number of dependants that can accompany students. These changes increase the issues to be addressed by employers who employ students as it is not always obvious how many hours a student can work. The offence of illegal employment is one of strict liability.

It seemed to be only a matter of time before an establishment failed to meet these new criteria. This finally happened with London Metropolitan University who was stripped of its licence meaning that all of their overseas students having to find courses at other universities, or leave the UK. After a series of appeals and submissions, the licence was reinstated, but the damage to the UK had already been done.

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics show that there is a drop of over 40,000 students arriving for the year ending June 2012 compared to the previous year and a 20% drop in student visa applications made to December 2012 compared to the previous year. In addition, the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed that the number of Indian students had contracted by 23%.

These figures are evidence that the constant changes to the UK immigration rules is having an effect on the number of overseas nationals arriving. A recent study by the University of Sheffield found that overseas students were worth a net benefit to the region of £120m and a research paper from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills UK suggests foreign students as a whole are worth £14bn.

There have been calls for students to be exempt from the Immigration Cap. Until the Government does make a policy announcement, the UK risks becoming even less attractive to international students.