Universities chief says tough UK immigration talk deterring foreign students

The Conservative-led coalition Government have made significant changes to UK visa and immigration policy in the last 12 months as part of their efforts to bring down net migration to the 'tens of thousands'.

However, as the UK's membership of the European Union limits what controls can be placed on the main source of UK immigration - from Europe - the Government have been restricted to changing non-EU immigration and international student policy.

These changes have included removing post study work rights for international students and salary thresholds for those wanting to move the UK.

A myriad of opponents to the changes have voiced their concerns about the impact on the international education industry in the UK but Ms Dandridge says the Government's tough talk on 'bogus students' is proving just as damaging as the policy changes.

"We are concerned about the language and the atmosphere that is being created," said Ms Dandridge, "not least because it plays very, very badly internationally.

"Whatever the intentions of the politicians are...every time these sorts of comments are made the home secretary or others it does have a potentially very damaging impact internationally."

The Home Secretary Theresa May recently announced that over 100,000 international students would be interviewed as part of their UK visa application in an effort to weed out bogus students - those with no intention of studying and has previously blamed immigration for increasing house prices.

Ms Dandridge says the Government's changes combined with a harsh rhetoric have already started to affect application rates from countries vital to the industry, particularly Middle Eastern and Asian nations.

"What universities are reporting to us [is that] they are seeing significant drops [in applications], particularly from India, from Pakistan and now from China and Saudi Arabia.

"These are countries that send large numbers also they are important countries in terms of international engagement and industry engagement, so we want to be promoting and fostering relations with them, not erecting barriers."

Marissa Murdock, casework manager at the UK Visa Bureau, says international students have presented an easy target for the UK Border Agency but the agency should be mindful of the potential impact.

"It is no secret that there are bogus students in the UK which the Government are trying to deal with," said Ms Murdock.

"However some of the language being used unfortunately risks tarring all international students with the same brush and encouraging more potential students to go elsewhere.

"With the economy still struggling, international education in the UK is one of a precious few industries capable of continuing to contribute massively, but only if the right message is put out."

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