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UK Student Visa Woes: Navigating the Challenges for International Students

By Olusoji Daomi Esq.

The UK government has a new enemy, it is foreign students. Last year, the UK government imposed a series of restrictions on them. Visa fees were hiked, work visas were reduced, family members were not allowed and now the Home Secretary has made a new claim, his name is James Clevally, he is like the Minister of Interior in Nigeria, and he says that foreign students are undermining the UK’s higher education. How? By using university courses as a cheap way to get work visas. So he wants an investigation. But does his claim hold water? Because foreign students helped the British economy since 2019. They have added $76 billion to the economy. So why is the UK fighting them?

The UK has something called the graduate route visa, basically after you complete your
course, you do not have to immediately leave the country. You can stay back, work for two to three years and get a work visa during the period. Of course it is not for all graduates or all courses, but Clevally has a problem with this. He says the plan is flawed. It is not attracting the brightest or the best and, he thinks students are abusing it. So the Home Secretary has ordered a probe. It will look at any evidence of abuse, it will find out if students are misusing the graduate route visa. The Home Secretary’s comments have left many universities concerned. They say Clevally’s remarks are alarming. The UK graduate route is a key component of higher education in the UK. It makes education in the country more attractive. So universities believe these comments will only turn away prospective students, and it already is. Since last year the UK has waged a battle against foreign students, it has hyped visa fees, it has cut work entitlement, that is, it allows foreign students to work in the UK. The UK has also barred international students from bringing family members over, and now even the post-work visa is in danger.

All these steps have spooked international students. They are avoiding the UK and it is showing in the numbers. This year international student numbers in the UK have fallen by a third. Enrollment in postgraduate courses is down by 40%. Applications from non-EU countries have seen a sharp decrease. Take Nigeria for example, applications have dropped by 46% this year. Indian students too are turning away, but it is not as drastic, there is a 4% drop in applications. Clevally may think it is a good deterrent, but it is harming the UK’s economy. Just look at the numbers, the UK has over 320,000 international students. Every year they pay a fee of $21,000. Since 2019 foreign students have boosted the UK’s economy by $76 billion. Foreign students make education cheaper for locals, they help subsidize the cost. The sudden drop in numbers will affect not just universities but also domestic students, and it doesn’t stop there. The economy of these university towns will be hit, and so will the overall economy. Universities are already taking measures to counter the government’s policies. They are reportedly lowering their entry standards, and they are using recruitment agents. But it is not working. Foreign students remain doubtful, and they are dumping the UK for other countries. The UK wants to make sure that they strike a balance. It aims to tackle migration, but also attract the brightest talent. It is a tight-rope walk, and the balance cannot be found by waging a battle on international students.

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