Can I have the bill please?

So the details of the Immigration bill have just been released, and I can’t help but wonder what the impact of these changes will have on the UK’s ability to still attract the brightest and the best international students?

It is difficult not to agree with the underlying intent of the Bill. It is hard to see why those who do not have the right to be in the UK should be able to use the NHS for free. Landlords should be accountable to tenants to stop this ‘beds in sheds’ abuse. Fines should be increased (doubled) and handed out, as well as assets being seized to stop people who are exploiting non-EU citizens. There is no place for any form of ‘human trafficking’ in a civilized society. 

But, as always, the devil is in the detail, andAs the aim of the Bill is to deal with abuses, and individuals who have no right to be in the UK, it would be unfortunate if the impact were mainly to be felt by those who obey the rules and bring economic, cultural and social benefit to the country.

We have already seen a petition by the National Union for Students (NUS), that’s attracted over 1,000 signatures, lobbying against the plan to charge a health levy for NHS services. The levy would be introduced at the point of visa application and would have to be paid in advance for each year that a student proposes to stay in the UK. Most international students who I have met have their own insurance (health included), and this is likely to become another message that it will cost you more if you want to study here in the UK.

On the same day as the Immigration Bill was announced, New Zealand announced government measures to support growth to make NZ a more attractive study destination for international students Link here. As comparative figures are likely to show this autumn, international students are already seeking and finding alternative countries in which to pursue their studies – and any further dents to our reputation will have an adverse impact on recruitment in the future.

I was fortunate enough to able to attend some of the immigration debates during the political party conferences. The all-party Parliamentary Group on Migration had organized fringe events at all of the conferences and I made it to the Labour and the Conservative debates.

Both were very interesting – and it was particularly interesting to hear the concerns being raised by those local MPs who are listening their local constituents. But not once was the potentially negative impact on international students raised as a concern. In fact the opposite was the case as, at both events, ministers acknowledged that they need to do more the support and grow international student numbers. This is likely to reflect the very real economic stimulus they bring to local businesses.

The main concern in both debates was EU migration and how that can be controlled. I think that to have a reasonable debate and to move things forward, immigration needs to be split intp different categories. Only then each group can be considered with an eye to the specific circumstances.  Classing everyone  in the same way is illogical and the resulting message to the world can be damaging and confusing..

One piece of good news is that the message has got across that whatever the UK does with regard to immigration, it will be published around the world the next day. We should hope that it leads to policy development and implementation which offers the prospect of a warm welcome to international students who bring so many positive things to our country.

Peter Skillen

Author: Peter Skillen

Peter Skillen is INTO’s UKBA Compliance Manager, joining INTO from the University of East Anglia where he held a similar position. He is the central reference point for all Home Office (UKBA) related compliance and guidance within the INTO University Partnerships group. Peter is one of the most experienced and highly regarded experts on student visas in the United Kingdom. He presents and speaks regularly at sector conferences and training events.

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