Home Office wrangling over international students continues

DfE is pushing back on some restrictions on student visas – but not others

Michael Salmon is News Editor at Wonkhe

The Times has news of further arguments between the Department for Education and the Home Office over international students. We’re told that home secretary Suella Braverman proposes to reduce the post-study work visa to six months – and that DfE is trying to block this, to avoid damaging UK higher education’s international competitiveness:

The department argued that the two-year graduate visa was aligned with most of Britain’s main competitors, with only the US offering a one-year visa. It added that Britain’s university sector was a major export and helped subsidise university funding.

We also hear, however, that the Home Office and DfE agree on two other measures: first, only allowing foreign students to bring dependants when on PGR courses (or courses of at least two years in length – disqualifying the majority of PGT, in essence). Second, barring students from switching to work visas until after course completion.

UUKi has signalled its agreement with this latter change:

We would welcome the proposals to end switching from student and work visas where students have not completed their course. This would close an unhelpful loophole.

UUKi’s statement also makes the case for the graduate route being left alone, as well as arguing that dependant visa regulations should be left as they are. These two changes, unlike the banning of visa switching, would be potentially extremely harmful to international recruitment.

We’ve seen how quickly the recruitment landscape can change with adjustments to visa regulations. There is undoubtedly a discussion to be had around how educational offers and institutions’ competitive positioning might be reshaped if doctoral research rapidly became more attractive to students – in particular those with families – than PGT.

If The Times’ reports are to be believed, this change is now accepted by both the Home Office and DfE, with only the sector arguing against – so some contingency planning might be in order.

Of course, there is also the question of how long universities can really expect visa regimes to stay in place, and therefore conduct any kind of long-term size and shape strategy. As UUKi argue in their statement:

A repeating pattern of boom and bust in international recruitment would be a big mistake. We need stable and well managed policy which keeps the UK attractive.

And yet we look to be on the verge of a further tinkering with entry requirements, not long after the graduate route was re-instituted.

There was also another bit of Home Office news at the weekend that some providers will be wanting to stay across – The Telegraph reported that immigration minister Robert Jenrick will chair a new taskforce on migrants’ access to public services – and part of its remit is explicitly around international students:

Officials have also been tasked to review private colleges sponsored by universities for whether courses are being exploited by migrants who came here illegally. There are also concerns that some foreign students at universities are doing significantly more hours in the black economy than the 20 a week allowed under visa rules.

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