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We Asked Some Foreign Students What They Think of the UK's New Anti-Foreign Student Law

The government doesn't want foreign students to stay in the UK once they've completed their studies.

by Ben Jackson
Jul 15 2015, 7:00pm

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

The Conservative government seems to be doing everything it can to make life difficult for students. In last week's Budget we learned that it's converting the maintenance grant into an ordinary, recoupable student loan, a move that will hit working-class students the hardest. This week, the Tories turned their misery cannons on foreign students, as they unveiled plans that'll likely make them want to book a flight on the next plane home.

Theresa May was responsible for dealing the blow, announcing her plans to implement rules banning foreign students from working during their studies and forcing them to leave the UK after they finish their courses. The government estimates that the number of international students coming to the UK will rise by more than 6 percent a year up to 2020—they might want to revise those numbers, since the new rules are likely to deter future students from choosing to study here when they're unable to also find a job here either during, or after, their studies.

I paid a visit to City University in London, home to students from over 160 countries, to speak to people who may be affected by the government's plan.

NICOLE CHANG, 23, FROM SINGAPORE. STUDYING INTERACTIVE JOURNALISM.

VICE: What are your views on the Home Office's new rules for foreign students?
Nicole Chang: I think it's absolute bullshit. It's a cleverly contrived political falsification to try and make foreign students a scapegoat and to distract from the cuts to other areas of UK life that they're going to make—like the housing shortage or maintenance grants being cut. I don't think it's a coincidence that so soon after maintenance grants were cut, the foreign student issue is being raised.

Do you feel scapegoated personally?
Yes, I do, because it's already incredibly hard to get a working visa if you're a non-EU national and have studied at higher education level in the UK. I don't think that this will yield any sort of tangible results. I don't think it will result in more illegal immigrants being deported or even having net migration numbers cut. I don't think it's rooted seriously in them genuinely wanting to tackle the problem of illegal immigration or net migration. I think it's a plastic problem.

A plastic problem? OK. Let's talk about you—what's your situation?
I'm finishing up my master's and like everyone else on my course, I am job hunting. So, I've applied to various journalism jobs and I would like to stay in the UK. It is incredibly hard. I was doing freelance shifts at a national newspaper and basically they were confused about the situation regarding paying non-EU nationals. I think because of this confusion a lot of employers, once they hear that you might need a visa, they just say oh no, we can't do that, without maybe necessarily understanding exactly what they have to do if they want to employ you. I felt that because of the visa situation, that was why they chose not to employ me after my trial shifts.

What do you think the perception is of the Tory government among foreign students?
I don't know. I don't think many foreign students associate these restrictions with specifically a Tory government. I think they feel that it's just the British government in general. Even stepping up this anti-foreign student rhetoric, even the Labour party, which you traditionally think of being more open to immigration and foreign students, even they haven't adequately defended or come out against this policy.

What do you think of the UK's future as a destination for global talent?
I'm not sure fewer foreign students will come to the UK. I think the UK, at the moment anyway, is still a big enough draw that you wouldn't see a dramatic decrease, at least in the next couple of years. But I don't know. In the long run, this might change, especially if more and more restrictions are placed. It's a shame that the UK might lose out on foreign talent because of this. A lot of people also feel that, you know, they let a lot of UK students into Singaporean universities for example, and it doesn't seem as fair.

NICHOLAS CHIA WEI NG, 23, FROM MALAYSIA. STUDYING ACTUARIAL SCIENCE.

VICE: What are your views on these plans, Nicholas?
Nicholas Chia Wei Ng: For me, there's no particular direct impact because I have already got a job back home. But for a lot of my friends who are just graduating, for those who haven't got a job, they might have to go back so I think it's quite a shame.

It's the Conservative government that is implementing this policy now. Obviously, you've done a really good degree and it's got you a job back home. What about other people who haven't done science degrees that are more likely to lead straight into a job, such as humanities and arts students? Do you think we'll see fewer foreign students in those subjects?
It depends on what kind of humanities and arts subjects. For some people, it's obviously very difficult for them to find a job, for example if you study history, English literature, or something like that. Back home, employers aren't really that flexible to accept all these different courses. But for courses that are more established, for example law, economics, medicine, then back home there are quite a lot of jobs. For students of those subjects, it shouldn't be difficult for them to find a job back home.

Do the Conservatives hate foreign students?
I don't think so because obviously they have their own agendas and their priorities might not be international students. They may think that there are too many of them, or they just want to reduce numbers and control the diversity of the population.

What do you think about the UK's future as a destination for global talent in light of this policy? What do you think's going to happen to the quality of the workforce here in the UK?
London and the UK has gained a reputation for being a financial hub. There are a lot of talents from other countries who would like to come to the UK as well. The UK might miss out on some of the great talents that come from other countries if they just focus on UK residents.

JUDY ONG, 23, FROM TAIWAN. STUDYING CULTURAL POLICY AND MANAGEMENT.

VICE: What are your initial thoughts on the policy?
Judy Ong: I feel like it's a bit unfair because one of the reasons why I chose to study abroad is because I want to work internationally.

Will it affect friends of yours or family in the future?
It might affect my family, maybe after seven or eight years. I have a younger sister and she's in high school right now, so maybe in the future she might consider studying in London as well. If she comes here and she can't do some internship during her studies, there might be a problem. I noticed that the UK working environment is quite concerned about if you have experience of working in the UK or not.

What's your situation now then? Are you planning on working in the UK now that you're graduating?
I'm in the process of job hunting. I heard this policy and I thought, Wow, it's really unfair because we pay lots of fees!

Have you secured a job? Is this news going to make you step up the job search?
Yeah, I think after I heard this news, I think I might try to speed up and find a job.

Okay, and what are you looking to go into?
Creative and cultural industries.

Cool, so what do you think the perception is of foreign students from the Tory government?
I don't think they hate foreign students. I know that London has lots of foreigners, but maybe the main thing is just the concern about the financial situation.

The reason for this policy is to prevent visa fraud, so foreign people coming here and pretending to be students, signing up for bogus college courses, just coming here to work basically. Do you think this policy is the best way to combat that or are there other ways?
I think there must be other ways to improve the economy, but maybe at the moment the UK government is just trying to control the number of people in London. If I was a citizen here, I might also hope not so many foreigners come to this city.

What do you think about the future of the UK—we've got a high quality workforce, professions, academia. Will this policy affect that in any way?
I think one of the negative outcomes will be fewer talented foreigners coming here. I'm still trying hard to find a job here but if the policies get more strict, I might try to convince some of my friends not to study in the UK.

So you've got friends who are a bit younger and you would advise them against coming to the UK perhaps?
Yeah because if they study here they only get study experience, but they might not be able to work in the UK after that.

VIVEK SIDDALINGAIAH, 27, FROM INDIA. STUDYING LAW.

VICE: Are you about to finish your degree?
Vivek Siddalingaiah: I'll be finishing in October.

Okay, cool. So what are your views on these new Home Office rules affecting foreign students?
I think I'm a bit confused about when it will come, whether it will affect me.

You won't be affected by it, it'll be the ones starting in September I think. Is this going to affect people you know? Like friends or family?
I think yes it will be a great blow for people who want to come here and study because normally the reason why people opt to study abroad is for better job prospects and when you are spending thousands of pounds, you expect to earn something back before you go back home. It's not just about earning money, it's also about the international exposure and the international experience that one could gain. So I think such a loss will actually deter students from coming to the UK.

Yeah, that makes sense. Are you planning on staying in the UK after you finish your course?
Yes, I am planning to.

Okay, and have you secured anything yet?
I have secured a few interviews but nothing concrete as of now. But I hope to find something.

Cool. So, why did you choose the UK to study?
Well, it is always a dream of most lawyers from India to come to London and become a solicitor or a barrister. That's the reason I'm here.

Okay, great. So these new rules, like you've said, they're more likely to deter foreign students from coming here. What do you think the knock ­on effects are going to be on the British workforce and academia?
It won't just be a blow for students but also for the economy and for the business sector. I was reading an article yesterday that had many people from the business sector who have strong contempt for this thing because it affects the economy. I think the UK government is getting more funds from international students than home students because you know, the difference in fees is like two times more. It's exactly double what they are paying. And also we pay for so many things. We pay £350 [$550] just for a visa application. We need to pay £200 or £300 [$315 or $470] for an NHS security thing. So many costs, and it's only going to get worse, right? I think it's also an advantageous situation for other countries like Australia, Canada, the US. Last year, before applying to the UK, I went through all the statistics, and starting in 2010 there has been a reduction of 30 percent of students coming to the UK because there are no job prospects. You finish your course, you spend all your money, you're forced to go back home. Even the post­study work permit is only for four months. If your course is for 12 months, you get a visa for 16 months. So you need to secure a job within four months otherwise you need to go back. It's different in Australia—I think you get one year, in France you get two years.

Okay, so what's the feeling among Indian young people who are thinking about where to study, and what are the feelings towards the UK government?
The Conservatives have always been a bit harsh on the international people. I think students back home used to prefer the UK because of the quality of education, the quality of the institutions, and also job availability. But now people are preferring Canada and Australia because we have a better job security there. If you finish your course, you can almost be certain of finding a job but that is not the case in the UK. It's a gamble for whoever comes to the UK. We don't know what's happening, every few months you have laws being changed. Before the election I think the same parties said they'd cut down on illegal migrants, but now they're targeting the students. All these students are being diverted to other countries that are more liberal with students.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?
One thing I would say is that overall it's not a good way of dealing with people. I know there are issues with immigrants, especially illegal ones, but don't target students. If a student is coming to the UK, the government knows everything about them, my background, my parents, everything. So, if it wasn't sure about me, it wouldn't have allowed me to get into the UK in the first instance. If we are capable, why shouldn't we work here? It's as simple as that.

MOHAMED ZAGHLOUL, 26, FROM KUWAIT (HAS A CYPRIOT PASSPORT). STUDYING REAL ESTATE.

VICE: Could you talk about your initial thoughts on the new rules?
Mohamed Zaghloul: It will affect a lot of students who come to the UK for job experience because the caliber of people in London, and the type of work they'd be doing, would give them good exposure and experience for their future. Not being able to do this would be a disadvantage to them and their career goals.

So, these new rules won't affect you, will they?
No they won't, I have a European passport and I'm eligible to work here in the UK with no authorization from the government. So fortunately, no.

Okay. Are you at least a little bit concerned that new policies might come out in the future that might affect you?
Potentially, absolutely. We all come to the UK, specifically London, because it's a global financial center and opportunities are endless here. We all want that leading exposure with the best companies in the world. So, I wouldn't be discussing this with you right now if it wasn't for me having the opportunity to work here. I feel that international populations contribute to the UK as well.

Will these new rules affect people you know? Are you worried about them? Yes, they might be demotivated to pursue education here because a lot of students who come to the UK assume that an internship or some type of work experience will be packaged with their degree. This might not help the education sector here in the long term, for example it might have an impact on the funding for universities.

We all know the UK has some of the best institutions for education in the world.
Yeah, and foreign students pay much more than home students. So they're kind of subsidizing it for the rest of us, right?

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