This week, in an edited version of an original blog entry, Daniel Stevens, International Students’ Officer at the National Union of Students (NUS) in the UK, evaluates the government’s recently released international education export strategy in light of other immigration proposals.


Will the Government’s strategy to welcome international students take off?

“The Government recently announced an ambitious strategy to grow the number of international students studying in the UK by 90,000 within the next five years. It correctly noted that for this to happen, “[the Government] must show that the UK values international students” and “provide a warm welcome and support while [international students] are here”.

However, international students feel far from welcome. Truthfully, it has never been a tougher time to be an international student in the UK. With poor performance in the processing of visas, increasingly stringent immigration rules and negative rhetoric in general, it’s difficult to see where the promised warm welcome will come from. Crucially, let us not forget that international students are still trapped in the Government’s net migration target purely for political reasons.

Worse still are those from Government who’ll argue back that this is all somehow perception. When an international student has to fear being randomly spot checked by immigration officials in London, it is far from perception. Nor is the consistent political and media arms race on immigration, which churns out daily sensationalist headlines. And nor are the proposals being put forward by the Government.

The Government is currently consulting on whether to have landlords check the immigration status of tenants and whether to charge migrants for access to the NHS [National Health Service]. Not only are both of these yet another detrimental policy towards international students, they are also unworkable, expensive and discriminatory.

Consider the Government’s proposals on landlords. You could easily envision a situation arising where a small landlord might only check the status of students with ‘un-British’ sounding names, or a situation where house hunting students drop the international student from their group because they can’t get the necessary documentation in time. Worse still, these students are likely to turn to the dangerous and illegal subsector of non-law-abiding landlords. Even then, it is difficult to see how this will be imposed given that most of the current regulation in the sector is woefully under-enforced.

Now take the proposals to charge non-EEA migrants UK£200 a year to access the NHS. It’s no surprise that these proposals impact mostly on international students. Two thirds of those affected by these changes are non-EEA students. Not only are there a multitude of concerns – especially from the medical community – these proposals are likely to not even be cost-effective.

According to the consultations, the Government spent UK£33 million treating foreign nationals in 2011, UK£21 million of which was recovered. This represents a net cost of UK£12 million or 0.01% of the NHS’s annual budget of £106 billion. However, international students contribute a net benefit to the UK far greater: BIS estimated that international students contribute UK£7.9 billion annually and Oxford Economics calculated that even when consumption of public services (including healthcare) is taken into consideration, international students in Sheffield provided a net benefit to the UK of £136.8 million. Furthermore, international students contribute to the NHS through taxation and through paying extortionate visa fees prior to entering the UK.

If these changes dissuade international students from coming to the UK, it is likely they will result in a far greater loss of income and annul any potential savings. International students contribute above and beyond any cost to the NHS or any cost to any public service.

The atmosphere for international students is becoming increasingly more hostile and making us feel far from welcome. The fact that there are four consultations to respond to in the summer is testament to that. The Government needs to take notice if they want their strategy to increase international student numbers to be a success.

NUS has started a petition against unfair NHS charges for international students.

At the time of writing, UK£1 = US$1.56
See here for our recent news story on the government’s strategy.

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