Overseas students are no longer welcome in the UK. Studying here has become more expensive as the Home Office has increased the maintenance fees for overseas students by 24%.
Lekha Bhavsar’s sigh is apparent, as she serves her last sandwich before her break. The tears forming in her black eyes are palpable. The young woman in her early twenties tries to compose herself. “It seems I’ve reached a dead end. My dream of being a double graduate is over,” she says.
Bhavsar works as a part-time employee at Subway. She’s also an overseas student pursuing her Master’s degree in Pharmacy at Sheffield Hallam University. She wants to do her second Master’s degree in the UK, but that may not be possible for her anymore. The British Home Office has made various changes from 12th November with regard to student immigration.
Overseas students while applying for their student visa (tier 4) visa, have to submit financial documents to the Home Office, which contains proof that they can pay their tuition fees and support themselves whilst studying in the UK. This is what the Home Office calls ‘maintenance funds’. Starting from 12th November, overseas students applying from both inside and outside the UK, will require 24% more funding towards their maintenance funds. The overall maintenance funds usually consists of both their tuition fees and living expenses.
Lekha doesn’t have enough funding to support her second Master’s degree. “The Home Office doesn’t want foreign students. That’s why they keep changing their rules, to prevent us from studying here.” says the medium – built woman.
The Home Office claims that it deliberately increased the maintenance funds to prevent the open widespread abuse of the student immigration system.
“Our reforms put in place a tough, but fair system that comes down hard on those intent on cheating it. But welcomes the brightest and the best to study in our world class universities.” says a Home Office spokesperson.
Lekha snorts in derision when told about this statement. “If a student doesn’t have enough money, does that qualify her as ‘not the brightest’?” she demands, her dark eyes flashing with incense.
If the student has already paid their tuition fees, then they will only have to show that they have adequate living expenses. If they have paid a part of their tuition fees, they must have the evidence that they can pay the remaining tuition fees and living expenses while submitting their student visa application.
Overseas students who had submitted their visa application before 12th November, whose course lasts for nine months had to show that they had £9,180, for maintenance funds if their university was located in London, or £7,380 if their university was located outside London. For those who submit their applications on or after 12th November, will need £11,385 if their university is located in London, and £9,135 if their university is outside London, for a nine month course.
The rate of interest for a student loan is 13% in India, Lekha’s home country, so repaying it would take ages. Lekha’s tuition fee is roughly £14,000 and if she studies in a London based university, she’ll need £11,385.
“My parents gave me all their savings so that I could do two Master’s degrees.” she says, looking at their picture on the home screen of her phone. Unfortunately, Lekha also didn’t receive any of the scholarships which she had applied for. Her only option is to earn money in the UK and pay for her fees.
The Home Office has imposed numerous rules for overseas students about work. An overseas student can work only 20 hours per week during term-time, and full-time during vacations. But working full-time during the holidays will still not help her get the sufficient amount. She has to apply for a full-time job, and as the job market in the UK is highly competitive, she has slim chances.
She has only four months left after her course to find a job, and switch to a general work (Tier 2) visa. The minimum wage she can obtain through this visa is £20,800. But the cost of living and UK’s heavy taxation policy would prove to be another formidable obstacle in her endeavour.
If Lekha does not obtain a graduate level job, before her student visa expires, then she can apply for a job in the UK only after returning to her home country. “The Home Office has made my life a living hell! They’re using cunning tactics to deport overseas students!” she exclaims in the crowded shop.
The Home Office claims that since 2010, its student immigration policy was used as a gateway to obtain a British work visa.
The Office for National Statistics published a report regarding immigration for work purposes. An estimated 271,000 people migrated at the end of September 2014 to work in the UK. The number of non-EU immigrants is significantly higher than EU immigrants.
The number of non-EU immigrants in the UK has surged from 68,000 in 2014, from 44,000 in the previous year. Indians, Australians and the Americans are the top three nationalities who were granted work visas.
Students who are applying to study from outside the UK also have grievances about the rise in funding. Soumya Moudgalya, an aspiring student from Singapore, has to re-work her loan process. “I was going to send my application on the 12th of November, and I found out about this a few weeks after I got my loan sanctioned. The British Home Office hunts for reasons to reject applicants!” she complains.
A Home Office spokesperson says otherwise: “When we refuse a visa it is because the applicant has not met our rules. Our reforms – which include introducing English language requirements, making sure students can support themselves, and stopping bogus students and colleges from abusing the system – are all part of our plan to control immigration for the benefit of Britain.”
The Home Office is confident that this change will not reduce the number of genuine students coming to the UK. “There is absolutely no evidence that any of these moves have deterred genuine international students. The UK is the second most popular destination for international higher education students. There has been a 17% increase in student visa applications for universities since 2010.”
The Home Office’s claim has been backed by the statistics published on its website. Around 140,482 long-term study visas were granted in June 2013, whereas 145,123 visas were granted in June 2015, which is a 4.61% increase. The latest trends in student immigration also shows that about 278,123 long-term student visas were granted by the end of September 2014.
Kevin Kariappa, a first year overseas student at Bournemouth University, plans to continue his Master’s degree in the UK, irrespective of the demand for higher funds. “A degree from a UK university will open new avenues for me in the British job market. Its worth spending the money.” he says.
Pooja Kishin, an Overseas education consultant, says its hard to predict the immediate effect of this change. “The UK has always been popular as a study destination. Whether this discourages the number of applicants can be determined only before the September intake, as there aren’t many students who apply in January.”
Whether the UK may no longer be a favourable option for overseas students, can’t be determined yet, but nonetheless, Lekha’s dreams have been shattered. “Just like Theresa May said, ‘I’ll have to pack my bags and leave after my course is over’.” says Lekha, straightening her cap, getting ready to go back to work.