Imagine for a second that you’re an international student.  It’s not exactly the easiest of roads for you – especially if you’re coming to a new land with entirely different culture and language.

It proves to be a testing experience, even for those with large communities they can rely on for help. I remember being an international exchange student – goodness knows what would have happened if there wasn’t the integration events and organisations around to help me.  Add to that the pressures of studying and finding your way around a new town or city and you’ve got a real test.  Some cope better than others.

Once you get into the studies however, things might seem a little easier.  And of course, when you finish off your course, your prospects don’t seem too bad, do they?

Sadly, it would appear that the Home Secretary Theresa May has decided to mix education and politics – a common theme of the government – and decided that international students contribute hugely to immigration and therefore the rules need a change.

Presently, international students can stay for four months after the end of their courses as part of the Tier 4 (General) Student visa.  If you find a graduate job in that time then you can apply for your visa to be changed to a work visa – you’re now sponsored to work in the UK.

Under a new and rather ridiculous proposal by Ms May – to be considered for entry into the Conservative Party manifesto – graduates will have to leave the UK immediately after finishing their course.  The ‘brightest and the best’ can apply for graduate jobs and the like, but they’ll have to do that from their own country and re-apply for an entirely new visa – not get their current student visa changed.

It means that students won’t be able to stay and see what they can get before leaving.  On top of that, I’m sure the government will use this as an excuse to add an extra cost to the whole process by applying for a separate visa.  Marvellous – talk about smothering graduate interest.

The reasoning behind this is to stop alleged abuse of the system from international students who find other things to do after their visas have expired – though I would imagine that international students aren’t making up the vast majority of illegal immigration in this country.  But hey, anything to make university life more difficult, eh?  Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper’s belief that the immigration system in the UK is ‘in chaos’ does seem to be in tatters – the government just moves on to another group of people to pick on.

If you are to believe the Labour Party, foreign students bring in billions of pounds every year into the economy – and that’s without considering the enormous fees that they pay universities who treat them like cash cows anyway.

With the cost of international student fees soaring far above anything else, I’m safe in saying that only those students wishing to make the massive financial commitment are those who confident of success – your ‘brightest and best’ the government keeps banging on about.

Logically, if we’re looking to keep the talent we as a nation help develop in our universities and colleges, why are making it so difficult for the talent to stay?  They’ll have to immediately travel home, start applying for graduate jobs from maybe the other side of the world… all whilst trying to sort a new visa!  How long is that going to take – it’s unpredictable at best? Furthermore, wouldn’t prospective employers be put off by the prospect of you having to immediately return home and waiting a considerable amount of time before you could start work?  Madness.

The plans have been roundly criticised by several members of the science community – the director for the Campaign for Science and Engineering, Sarah Main, claims the proposals undermine the government’s desire to make the UK a world-leader in science.  Imperial College London’s Professor Stephen Curry wrote for the Guardian, expressing frustration at the plans and how impractical it would be – arguably turning top talent away.

It is of course worth noting that the USA, Canada and Australia all offer post-study work visas of 12 months, longer than the 4 months provided at present by the UK.  Changing that to zero is logically going to leave us trailing far behind.  Never mind keeping the graduate talent here, international students could well be put off by the idea of immediately needing to leave afterwards – there’s no prospects afterwards without returning home.

The idea is so poorly thought out that it directly contradicts the government’s plans to create a world-leading nation of research and opportunities.  It seems as though Theresa May is looking for someone to blame for various immigration plans.  It all seems a bit politically-based, but it’s going to be a direct threat to the education sector if it gets added into the manifesto. Graduates will look elsewhere.  Employers will be looking elsewhere too – the lack of international competition will be evident.

International students contribute greatly to the country’s books and pay extortionate fees to study here.  If they’re doing all of this, then surely they should be permitted some time to stay afterwards and consider their careers and routes into the education sector?  I mean, we can’t allow everyone to stay, but what about those who have worked hard and are considered skilled – or in subject areas that are in high demand, but with short supply?  Is this not where our ‘brightest and best’ could be finding their futures.

If nothing else, the prospect of staying afterwards attracts students in the first place – the standards will be raised one way or another.

Ms May has made a complete mess of this.  This isn’t so much a case of politics and pointing the finger at a group so much as a complete attack on international graduates.


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Laura is a Francophile with a passion for literature and linguistics. She also loves skiing, cooking and painting.