The Economist this week highlights the picking on foreign students in the UK as a case of xenophobic populism ahead of the recent cabinet reshuffle. Immigrants once again seem to be the political football and the ones to blame. We hope the same narrow approach is not pursued here for example in the review of the Student Work Concession (see below) and that we continue to recognise the value of having foreign students study and work in Ireland.
The UK Border Agency last month decided to withdraw the London Metropolitan University’s licence to sponsor students from outside the European Union. This means that the University is removed from the register of licensed sponsors and students from outside the European Union are no longer allowed to study at the university.
The University has since issued a legal challenge to the withdrawal, refuting claims of systematic failings and stating that they have conducted stringent checks on their students in order to meet with the published requirements. They also point out that there have been at least 14 substantial changes to UKBA's requirements in relation to their students in the last three years.
The impact of UKBA’s revocation is stark: up to 2,600 continuing international students are affected and may face deportation if they cannot find an alternative sponsor by 1 December 2012.
The dispute between UKBA and London Metropolitan can be seen as part of a wider tussle between the UKBA and international students as the UK government seeks to meet its election pledge of reducing immigration to the “tens of thousands” during their term in office. The most recent figure on net inflow migration into the UK stood at 216,000, so there is some way to go.
The only way the UK can realistically reduce the number so drastically is by imposing sweeping restrictions on foreign workers and students who are the very immigrants that they need to hold on to. They make a valuable financial contribution to the UK economy and are most likely to make a beneficial impact; they keep several higher education institutions afloat and help make the UK a global player in third level education.
The Economist cites a government report that estimates earnings from foreign students to be around £7 billion a year and that this could double by 2025. The revocation of the license held by London Metropolitan could result in as much as a £30 million annual loss to the institution alone.
The UK approach, as the Economist argues, is a nasty piece of populism driven for the most part by political priorities.
Recent changes in our own immigration system have seen a tightening up of the student visa regime (see our previous blog posts on this issue). According to INIS, in 2011 the number of non-EEA national students registered to study in the State was approximately 32,500.Broken down by education sector, 37% of students were pursuing Higher Education (Degree Programme) study, 29% were taking language courses, 23 % further education (non Degree) courses and 11% other (e.g. accountancy, secondary school).There is reported to be a decrease of around 8% in the numbers of international students in 2012.
The Department of Justice have posted their intention to review the Student Work Concession – this permits full time non-EEA students to work 20 hours per week during term time and 40 hours per week outside that. While INIS states there are no immediate plans to change this, they do not that the current economic climate necessitates further analysis of this concession.
We would guard against any change to the current concession and any further tightening of the student visa regime. Our own experience is that the work concession provides an essential means for students to meet the significant costs of pursuing studies in the State as a non-EEA student and to meet basic costs of supporting themselves through their course of study. These students work hard, they pay their taxes, they have valid permission to remain in the State. Any review must therefore be properly informed by the many benefits of attracting foreign students to Ireland and not any political populism borrowed from the UK.