23 March 2012

UK visa changes spark student fight back

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Changes to UK visa policy which some experts say dissuade international students from studying in the UK has led to an online protest by the National Union of Students.

UK visa

The National Union of Students has launched an online campaign to protest changes to UK visa policy.

Executives at Dulwich College and independent education body Alpha Plus Group claimed in a report published in February that the changes to UK visa policy deter foreign students from studying in the UK and therefore have a detrimental effect on the country's international reputation.

As part of the Coalition Government's promise to reduce net migration from its current levels of 250,000 to the 'tens of thousands' by the end of the current Parliament, Home Secretary Theresa May and Immigration Minister Damian Green have recently introduced several changes to UK immigration and visa policy.

Of these changes, international students applying to study in the UK will have to have adequate English skills before entering the country and foreign students will no longer be able to remain in the country after graduating without a job offer paying at least £20,000.

While Mr Green maintains this change will allow the UK to benefit from the 'brightest and best' international students, educational bodies claim the announcement alone has resulted in a 1% in drop in the country's share of the international market.

The changes are scheduled to take effect in April but students are already making their displeasure known by launching an online campaign on Facebook to protest the changes.

The National Union of Students (NUS) led campaign has already received 1,200 likes, NUS national executive council member Daniel Stevens said: "Students want to take action locally."

"One of the biggest problems in the UK is many student sabbatical officers do not know enough about the issue. We have been trying to persuade them to take up the cause but if they don't understand then they can't really help."

Mr Stevens maintained that the campaign hoped to reach as many students' unions as possible but it is "not so much about numbers but about a story needing to be told."

"So many people have spoken out against the policies such as the British Council and the Russell Group but the Government hasn't listened."

Several universities had also campaigned to have student figures simply removed from UK immigration statistics but this proposal has been widely dismissed.

A spokesperson for the Home Office defended the policy, saying: "We are taking action to control migration and restore public confidence which will not be achieved by simply changing the statistics.

"Our reforms have re-focused the student visa system as a temporary route and one that is not open to abuse. Our aim is not to stop genuine students coming here to study - it is to ensure we are attracting the brightest and best."

Foreign students currently contribute between £5 and £8 billion annually to the UK economy in tuition fees alone and Mr Stevens contends that the Government is only concerned with appearance.

"The only reason the Government refuse to back down to our pressure is because when the next general election comes around, they can say 'we brought immigration numbers down'.

The UK Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people prepare for their UK Ancestry Visa application.

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