Socialist Worker

Tory infighting over immigration lies behind student visas chaos

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2319

London Metropolitan University international students are victims of the government’s racist immigration policies. And the fiasco shines a light on a row within the Tory party.

Some sections of the ruling class see international students as a source of big profits to be exploited.

Others prioritise clamping down on immigration. Within the Tory party the anti-immigration section seems to be winning.

In May last year home secretary Theresa May claimed that “too many” international students “were here to work and not to study”. She said the government aimed to cut the number of student visas by a quarter, or around 80,000.

The attack on students is part of a wider agenda. The Tories want net migration—the number of people who come to Britain minus those who leave—to be under 100,000 a year. It is currently 216,000.

So they have set about making life harder for people who come here to study. The Tories have cut the number of hours that some international students are allowed to work.

They have stopped students from being able to bring their children or partners with them—unless they are on a postgraduate course that lasts at least 12 months. And institutions must now have “highly trusted sponsor status” in order to take on non-EU students.

Navigating the rules has pushed up costs for universities. The London School of Economics spends at least £250,000 a year trying to comply with the rules. That compares to £50,000 five years ago.


The number of international students studying in Britain has fallen. The number of student visas issued in the year to June 2012 was down 21 percent compared with the previous year.

The Tories have refused to exclude international students from the immigration figures. Other countries—such as the US, Canada and Germany—define international students as temporary migrants.

The Institute of Public Policy Research says the Tories’ refusal to do this is driven by a desire to show falls in the figures and is damaging education.

The mainstream debate about international students is dominated by talk of what is best for universities’ bank balances.

The Labour Party hasn’t stood up for the right of people to study and travel. Instead it has warned that the Tory clampdown could pose a threat to the “industry” of overseas students that is worth £5 billion a year.

But the attacks on international students will whip up racism while wrecking the lives of many people purely because of where they were born.

Anyone should be able to come to Britain—and leave—for whatever reason. We should oppose border controls that stop ordinary people from moving around the world while the rich and big business can go where they like.

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Tue 4 Sep 2012, 17:52 BST
Issue No. 2319
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