Overseas students say 'UK immigration cap' makes them feel less welcome

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A poll of international students carried out on behalf of a UK trades union has found that over half of foreign students questioned said that 'the government's immigration cap makes them feel less welcome in the UK'.

The poll was carried out for the University and College Union (UCU), a trades union for university and college lecturers. 510 students from 105 UK higher education institutions were questioned.

The UK does not have an overall immigration cap. There is, however, an annual cap of 22,700 on the number of Tier 2 (General) visas that can be issued to skilled workers.

Over 80% of international students happy with their UK education

The poll found that over 80% of international students who were studying at UK universities on Tier 4 student visas said they were happy with the education they were receiving. 94% said that UK higher education was highly respected.

Simon Renton of the UCU issued a statement in which he said 'The government either does not realise the damage its rhetoric on immigration is doing to our standing on the global stage or it doesn't care. Including overseas students in the immigration cap was a mistake and this research is a real insight into the damage that decision has done to UK PLC.'

Mr Renton when talking about the immigration cap seems to be referring to a promise made by the UK's Prime Minister, David Cameron, before the last general election in 2010. Mr Cameron said that, if he became prime minister, he would reduce the level of annual net immigration into the UK from its then level of about 260,000 per year to 'tens of thousands' per year.

Government ministers now say that what they mean by this is that they would reduce net immigration to below 100,000 per year. Professor David Metcalf of the Migration Advisory Committee says that the 100,000 figure is something that the government "aspires to" rather than a target.

UK net immigration has fallen to 150,000 annually

However, since the election, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, and the Immigration Minister, Mark Harper, have both confirmed that the government is working towards this goal. The latest figures show that net immigration has fallen to about 150,000 per year after the government made various changes to the immigration rules.

But in April, Mr Harper said in an interview 'There is no limit to the number of students who can come to the UK'. Mr Harper said that the government had closed down 500 colleges that had 'sold immigration, not education' but said that the government was keen to attract 'the brightest and the best' to the UK.

Mr Cameron gave the same message in an interview with Indian television in February 2013. He said ''there is no limit on the number of students who can come from India to study at British universities, no limit at all. All you need is a basic English qualification and a place at a British university.'

Closure of Tier 1 (Post Study Work) Visa stream may discourage international students

The government has, however, introduced several changes to its immigration regime that have had an impact on students. In 2012, it closed the Tier 1 (Post Study Work) visa which allowed international graduates from UK universities to stay in the UK for two years after leaving university. There have been fears that this might dissuade students from studying in the UK.

The government has also introduced more checks on overseas students which they say is to ensure that they are 'genuine students and are not abusing the UK's Tier 4 student visa by coming to the UK to work, rather than study.

In June 2012, university vice-chancellors called on the government to remove students from the immigration statistics. They said that, because the government was committed to reducing the net immigration total to below 100,000 per year, it was damaging the UK's export education sector. They asked that students should be counted as temporary rather than permanent residents in the immigration statistics.

But the then immigration minister Damian Green said that to do so would be 'absurd'. He said that students were immigrants because they live in the UK for three years and use the same services as other residents.

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