UK student visa: Controversial Rwanda plan win raises fear of drastic changes – Moneycontrol

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The UK government’s controversial plan to remove asylum seekers to Rwanda has won the approval of the London High Court. On Monday (19 December), Lord Justice Lewis and Justice Swift ruled that the scheme did not breach UN Refugee Convention or human rights laws. This means that the UK government can relocate some asylum seekers to Rwanda while their cases are processed. The government’s rationale has been that this would discourage people-smuggling in the long run.
Rishi Sunak, Suella Braverman and other leaders have welcomed the verdict. The victory in the high court, however, does not mean that a flight to Rwanda will be leaving anytime soon. That is because the court also ruled that the cases of eight asylum seekers to be deported to Rwanda had not been “properly considered” and would need to be reconsidered. So the government has won on the principle of law, but would still face obstructions based on the particulars of individual cases.
The Rwanda policy has been criticised as a symbol of colonialism firmly rooted in the imperatives of global capitalism. A first-world country trying to outsource the problem of migration to a third-world nation. The £120 million deal with Rwanda was described as “ungodly” by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and various charities spoke of the unspeakable sufferings it would cause to people seeking refuge from wars, political violence, environmental disasters, and human rights abuses.
For an island country like the UK, migration is a hot political potato, where different constituents and stakeholders have their own take on the issue. This leads to a constant hankering with policies as ministers juggle to keep everyone happy. This came out starkly when the government was forced to re-introduce the graduate visa allowing international students to live in the UK for two years after successfully completing their studies.
The post-study work visa was earlier offered to international students by the UK to facilitate work experience. In 2011, it was stopped amidst the clamour to restrict migration. This led to a fall in the number of Indian students, and the universities in the UK had raised concerns with the government. In fact, successive ministers in charge of education/universities clashed with cabinet colleagues over the UK being left behind by other countries like the US, Canada and Australia in attracting Indian and Chinese students who constitute a large chunk of international students.
After years of campaigning, and realising the damaging impact on the education sector, the government announced in September 2019 that it would restart the two year post-study visa from July 2020. Sanam Arora, founder and chairperson, National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU), who made several representations to the government on the issue said that it was only logical that the post-study visa regime was restarted.
“For two years after students finish their courses they can live and work in the UK without the need of any sponsor. The primary aim is to get global work experience, and in two years they get the opportunity and time to switch to a Tier 2 visa by getting a job or starting their own business,” said Arora.
But once the two years end, international students find it difficult to get a sponsor to switch to the Tier 2 visa because of the high fees. While the vast majority of international students (including from India) go back to their home countries, for those who plan to remain in the UK, getting employers to sponsor their visas is a Herculean task.
Rashi Agarwal, who did MA in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Westminster, said sponsorship is a synonym for impossible. Agarwal is on a Graduate Visa which expires in December 2023, having successfully finished her studies in 2021.

“I came to this country with dreams and hopes to become a successful journalist only to have them tarnished by big organisations who do not want to sponsor or recruit international immigrants like me. Technically, the government expects us to find ourselves an employee who can sponsor and provide us with a work permit once the Graduate Route scheme expires. But employers have started clearly stating in their application letter ‘Don’t apply if you need sponsorship to work in the UK’. Those who aren’t so explicit reject the application once they realise you need a sponsor,” says Agarwal.
Arora hopes that international students who wish to stay after the expiry of their Graduate visa get sponsors on time, but much depends on the sector and economic conditions. “When we made representations to the government for the resumption of the post-study work visa, it was made clear that student visas cannot be a seamless route to settlement. There are plenty of jobs, but ultimately vacancies depend on market forces and can differ from sector to sector,” says Arora. According to Arora, half of STEM jobs advertised remain unfilled and there are openings in tourism, hospitality, and nursing.
“I belong to the most under-represented groups which are less likely to get sponsored – marketing, fashion, media & communications, hospitality, arts & creative, and retailing. However, the major job sectors which have seen an increase in the sponsored visa in the last two years are the STEM sector, finance, and health,” said Agarwal, providing a glimpse to the job market scene in the UK.
(Representational photo: Anthony Delanoix via Unsplash) (Representational photo: Anthony Delanoix via Unsplash)
But what stakeholders really fear now is the ‘Rwanda turn’ that policies for international students can take. In the past few weeks, the home secretary Suella Braverman has spoken about the high number of dependants that international students get with them, raising fears of changes being introduced to the student visa regime. Vivienne Stern, CEO of Universities UK, has already spoken about a possible long battle ahead, especially as international students can be a soft target to achieve migration objectives.
Sources in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) reacted with surprise to assertions that Indian students come to the UK with a large number of dependants and insist that such statements do not give the complete picture. In 2021, 93,049 Indian students brought with them 24,916 dependants, while 34,000 Nigerian students brought with them 31,898 dependants. On the other hand, 114,837 Chinese students brought only 401 dependants with them.
While the number of Chinese dependants is very low, it has been observed that students pursuing post-graduation courses and doctorate tend to get more dependants and if any nationality (like India) contributes a large number of students at doctorate level, then they would get a higher number of dependants. Besides, studies show that Indian students are more than five times as likely as Chinese students to move onto a work visa, thus it is only natural that the former get more dependants to benefit from English language skills and seek to integrate early on in British society.
The controversy over dependants, and the rhetoric over migration has alarmed stakeholders in the UK education sector. There have been reports that the Conservative government is mulling having foreign students come to study only at the top universities and have a blanket ban on dependants. Universities in the UK have warned of job losses and economic disaster across the country as the international student community pays higher fees than UK students.
Several stakeholders including Arora have called for the students to be taken out from the net migration targets calling it unfair. Net migration is the number of people coming to the UK for more than a year minus those leaving. “It makes economic and diplomatic sense to not have international students in the net migration target. A majority of the students go back to their countries once they finish their studies,” says Arora.
In 2017, when Theresa May was the prime minister, she faced calls to not include international students in the net migration target as 97 percent of them leave after their studies. However, it has not been done yet. Besides, international students bring cultural and social capital, adding vibrancy to the university campuses adding to the overall attractiveness of educational institutes.
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