Over the past few weeks there have been headlines about new restrictions against international students, but why is the government targeting them? Is it profitable?
At the start of the month, Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced new plans to restrict the numbers of international students arriving in the UK, including a two-tier visa rules that would impact poorer-quality universities, a crackdown on work visas, and the creation of a £140 million ‘controlling migration fund’.
The measures shouldn’t have come as a shock, as Theresa May has arguably been waging war against overseas students ever since she became Home Secretary in 2010, and she’s been winning. According to the national figures for student immigration, in 2010-2011 the average student immigration was 235,000; between 2012 to 2015 as her policies began to have an effect this dropped to 179,000.
In fact, it was reported that Ms Rudd asked Ms May to remove students from her pledge to reduce annual net migration to below the tens of thousands. However, the prime minister wouldn’t budge; she also blocked a previous attempt to remove students from net migration in 2014 when Phillip Hammond suggested it.
The question is why is the prime minister so intent on removing foreign students? In 2013 Sheffield University released a report showing that their 8,222 international students bought a net gain of £136.8 million yearly. The report noted that because most students are young, single and childless they don’t take public money, and they spend a lot in local businesses.
Theresa May has already twice been accused of trying to change or remove information about migration. First, she was accused of trying to remove information about the positive effect of immigration on the British economy from a report published before the referendum, and later of ordering the Home Office to suppress a report that contradicts how many students overstay their visas. Previously the Home Office used Migration Watch statistics to argue that 110,000 foreign students ‘vanish’ into the UK through finding work, getting married, overstaying or enrolling in further study, new statistics show that actually the number is 1,500.
Theresa May seems determined to continue down this path that could mean the loss of the £11 billion income from international students, just so that she can say she cut down migration.