Yesterday saw Home Secretary Theresa May, one of the three favourites to succeed David Cameron as Conservative leader, set out her stall at their party conference in Manchester.
Her speech claimed mass migration was harming social cohesion in Britain and she announced plans to toughen rules on entitlement to asylum.
With concern about immigration at an all-time high here in the UK reaction to this hard hitting speech on immigration has divided opinion, with even the traditionally right-wing press seemingly surprised by it’s hard-hitting tone. The Telegraph’s (often nicknamed the Torygraph) by-line was Theresa May’s ‘chilling and bitter’ measures to send illegal migrants home.
The Home Secretary also took a swipe at universities saying that she “doesn’t care” what their “lobbyists” say on overseas students. She insisted that visa rules for international students need to be “enforced”
The UK welcomed the brightest students from around the world, she said.
“But the fact is too many are not returning home as soon as their visas run out,” she continued.
“I don’t care what the university lobbyists say. The rules must be enforced. Students, yes; overstayers, no.”
There has been speculation for some time that universities may be asked to take over responsibility for ensuring that graduates leave the country once their courses are finished.
Students as part of net migration
The speech didn’t mention international students in the context of the net migrant count. The Home Secretary is in favour of students remaining in the government’s target, whilst others in her party take the more pragmatic approach of removing them. Remember – just last month it was announced that the government’s target of tens of thousands was in tatters, currently sitting at 330,000 (an all-time high).
There is speculation in the sector that if the government does remove students remove students from the net migrant count the trade-off will be a significant tightening of student visas in return.
What does this all mean?
In our most recent survey of international students they told us that the primary reason that they don’t come to the UK is because of lack of PSW options. There doesn’t seem to be any chance that this will change.
The UK’s current mood music on immigration is also putting students off – there is a perception, despite our claims to welcome the best and brightest, that we are not open to international students. This makes the job of anyone working in international recruitment much harder.
Any further visa tightening is likely to be met with more negative publicity in the international student community only increasing the perception that the UK is closed to international students.