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International student group in the UK proposes immigration reforms

The UK Cabinet has received a letter from the All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPG) for International Students, calling for changes to ‘truly maximize the potential of the UK’s education exports sector’. The co-chairs of the APPG, Lord Karan Bilimoria and Paul Blomfield sent a letter to six Secretaries of State, including chancellor Jeremy Hunt, Home Secretary Suella Braverman, and Education Minister Gillian Keegan. The co-chairs emphasized immigration reform and increased cross-departmental cooperation as potential solutions in their recommendations.

They urged decision-makers to set a more sustainable target for international students studying in the UK. Highlighted below are some of the group’s suggestions:

Home Office support is needed: To truly make the IES successful, they advised, the Home Office must be involved in the cross-departmental engagement. Even though the Departments of International Trade and Education work closely together, Home Office support is still required. This comes after UK sector stakeholders previously expressed concerns that the Home Office was pushing the country’s international education agenda in a different direction. They said:

  • The Home Office has a key part to play in ensuring that the student visa system remains competitive with other English-speaking markets.

Immigration operations should be streamlined: They added that the IES must streamline UKVI operations and immigration at borders through digital means, such as by allowing more nationalities to use e-gates. According to them, a new single visa for students starting school or pathway programs, undergraduate or postgraduate study would lessen the burden of the student immigration system on the government and students while fostering a more cogent educational experience.

A new single-pathway student visa is suggested: London Higher has also suggested that a new single-pathway student visa would “incentivize” undergraduate international students to progress more easily to postgraduate qualifications in the capital. In a similar vein, UUK had also previously called for the costs of visas for researchers to at least be in line with international competitors.

Ensure businesses are aware of the Graduate visa: According to the APPG, the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy should also play a role in ensuring businesses are aware of the new graduate visa. UK stakeholders recently discussed how to address the problem of lack of awareness.

Diversify international students: After UK international student numbers reached 679,970 in 2021/22, the APPG said a “sustainable target for growth should include a commitment to diversifying the international students who come to the UK, where they come from and what they study”.

Include international student experience: Their appeal also stated that there should be an opportunity to “shift focus” to the international student experience – everything from visa application to experience at borders to success during and after study.

Focus on technical studies, and others: The group specifically requested that more emphasis be placed on non-HE education, such as technical studies, further education, the pathway sector, English language teaching, professional education, and independent and boarding schools.

International students to be treated as temporary migrants: It also called for international students to be excluded from net migration figures, arguing that they should be treated as temporary migrants because the vast majority “return home following study.”

What this means for prospective Nigerian students: While these suggestions are a step in the right direction, each may mean different things for existing and prospective Nigerian students.

Most Nigerian students will likely be quite happy with the move to create make awareness of UK businesses to utilize the Graduate visa route. This means that more Nigerian students who have graduated from the UK will now have more opportunities to get a job as their student visa is still valid. Another is the move to the UK to give more room to students who want to pursue non-Higher Education (HE) education, such as technical studies, further education, English language teaching, etc. Others are streamlining immigration operations to create a single-pathway student visa; which will enable undergrads to progress more quickly to post-grad studies. However, those that may sound unexciting, are the idea to diversify international students which could create a stricter selection of students depending on the country they come from and their course of choice. Another is the move calls for international students to be regarded as temporary migrants who ‘must’ return home after studying.