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U.K. immigration crackdown could hit 6,000 Canadian students

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Kimberley Hirschy has been dreaming of living in London since she was eight.

The Canadian student will begin her second and final year of law school at London's City University this fall, but instead of looking for jobs after graduation as she had hoped, she will be forced to go elsewhere.
"I would've liked to have stayed here forever, because I love it here. But with the crackdown on visas…" a disappointed Hirschy says over a cup of tea in her London apartment.
British Home Secretary Theresa May has announced a wave of changes to the United Kingdom's immigration rules, effective in November, that target international students.
The aim is to curb what the government calls an increase in visa fraud by students who arrive on a study permit and enter the job market instead, thereby bypassing the strict requirements needed to obtain a legal work visa.
It's the latest in a series of crackdowns by Prime Minister David Cameron's government, which has promised to reduce annual net migration to the U.K. from "hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands."
The U.K. is one of the most popular places for Canadians to study abroad, second only to the U.S. For the 2013-14 academic year, there were more than 6,000 Canadian students enrolled at higher education institutions in the U.K., a three per cent increase from 2012, according to Britain's Higher Education Statistics Agency.
Like Hirschy, many of these students hope to stay and work, but the new legislation will make this more difficult.
Under the new policy, international students studying at public (or community) colleges will be prohibited from working while studying and forced to leave the country before applying for an extended study visa.
Prior to these changes, college students were allowed to work up to 10 hours a week and could remain in the U.K. while applying for further study.
"The opportunity to work in the field where you're studying is very valuable," says John Mountford, international director for the British Association of Colleges. "So for certain students, it could be quite a big deterrent for coming to the U.K."
For many students, part-time work also helps offset the steep cost of education. Tuition for international students can often be twice as much as for those who live there.
Hirschy's law degree is costing her $26,000 each year in tuition alone, $8,000 more than her U.K. and EU peers. This does not include the cost of living and additional school fees.

To cover her two years of study, Hirschy has a $100,000 student loan.
The new rules are hitting U.K. colleges the hardest, but universities have not gone untouched. International university students will now be restricted from switching courses and will be limited to five years of study.
A student who began a degree studying biology, for example, can no longer switch into an arts program without express permission from the university. For many students, an undergraduate degree is a time of exploration, and these new rules will limit the ability to pursue new academic interests.
In addition, the government recently eliminated the concept of "established presence," a classification that allowed students to extend their study visa provided they had enough money in their bank account to cover two months of school and any necessary living expenses.
Students will now need to have up to nine months of savings in order to qualify for a visa extension, which could be another financial barrier for international students.
For example, a PhD student who has to extend their stay for a year might have to have about £12,000, or about $24,000, in the bank to make the application, says Dominic Scott, chief executive of the U.K. Council for International Student Affairs.
"We hope the message gets out loud and clear, so they better start saving soon," he warns.
Scott says many people see this is as "yet another assault on the whole concept that people can come to the U.K. at various levels of study and progress through the system."
These latest changes also make it clear that students are not exempt from the U.K.'s tough stance on immigration, says Mostafa Rajaai, international student officer for the National Union of Students.
The new rules "not only make it impossible for many to come and study in the U.K., it also sends a clear message to prospective students that they are not wanted here," says Rajaai.
International students spent $7.8 million on tuition alone for the 2013-14 academic year, but there's more in it for Britain than money, says Scott.
"[University] departments are kept open by large numbers of bright, able, talented international students and if we keep those departments open, then British students can go to them, too," says Scott.
"So it actually feeds and benefits the whole education sector."
The only way for Hirschy to stay in the country after graduation is with a Tier 2 work visa, which would recognize her as a legal employee. To be eligible, she needs to find an employer that will sponsor her and pay what the government considers a "graduate salary."
But her prospects are not promising.
"It's really hard to get an internship in the summer, and then it's really hard to get a training contract if you haven't had an internship, and that would be how you get sponsored," says Hirschy.
And it's about to get a whole lot harder.
In order for the British government to reach its promise of reducing net migration, more crackdowns are expected in the coming months. One will directly impact students looking to obtain a work visa after graduation.
The government's Migration Advisory Committee has been looking into raising the salary requirement for Tier 2 visas from "graduate new entrant" level to an average salary, which Scott says could increase it by at least $20,000.
The results are expected to be released in the fall. If the salary quota is increased, it will be virtually impossible for graduate students to find jobs that meet the salary requirement necessary to obtain a work visa.
Although Hirschy still hopes to stay in London, she says she is mentally prepared to leave.
She does not regret her decision to study in the U.K., but she admits the situation saddens her.
"I feel like they're just weakening their country when they do this," says Hirschy. "It doesn't make any sense. We know that people and ideas are what drive cultures forward."

Source: CBS news

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