Theresa May wasn't home secretary when I started my undergraduate degree in the University of Sheffield, back in 2009. I even remember naively wondering why everyone around me hated the Tories. But soon, as a foreigner, I started feeling their policies in my skin.
UKBA scrapped the post-study work visa with no warning. This scheme allowed graduates to work in the UK for two years after graduation. It became pretty obvious that the only interest in bringing in students from other countries was to pay for British education. International students are cash cows to the Tory government.
This week BBC Panorama revealed that the international visa laws, despite being reformed to close the borders even further in 2012, have failed to prevent a fraudulent system where undocumented immigrants pose as students. There's no question that, as scores of bogus students fall through the cracks, the new visa laws have only made things worse to legitimate students who continuously contribute to the economy, culture and education in the UK.
The post study work (PSW) visa was a very attractive program to me. It was one of the reasons I decided to study in the UK as opposed to my home country or in the USA. It seems contradictory to me that the government continuously affirms that they are welcoming of non-EU students and that they are not xenophobic when it is clear that these students are booted out of the country as soon as they have no more cash-value. And let's not forget that the prime minister agreed with the aggressive and illegal text 'Go Home' campaign, which directly increased prejudices about immigrants in general.
International students were not warned when PSW visa was ended. If you were planning to apply for the visa it was suddenly impossible to do so. Instead, you had the option of applying for another type of visa that required a £20,000 job from a company which would sponsor you. The number of fresh graduates who are able to get £20,000 salaries, international or not, is very small. I was no longer welcome in the UK after I had injected thousands of pounds into its academic system.
Of course a country should be cautious with its visa laws, but time and again it has been proved that international students are not the problem. In June 2013 the Telegraph revealed that of 2,000 suspected sham weddings over three months in 2012, 50% involved immigrants who entered the country as students. So that's 1,000 international students in sham marriages – just 0.2% of international students as a whole.
I was upset that I could not apply for the PSW. This possibility was a huge part of my future life plan. I had built a life in the UK, graduated in English and didn’t have many opportunities back in my home country. It's closure was even more ridiculous given the fact that people who want to stay in Britain after their studies are a distinct minority. Only about nine per cent of international graduates applied for the PSW visa in 2009. That's 38,000 people out of 405,810 non-UK students in higher education. The overwhelming majority – 91% of people who came to study in the UK in 2009 - did not want to stay in Britain.
Besides being punished for the fraudulent systems like the one BBC Panorama has exposed, I was also penalised for UKBA's inability to regulate and investigate bogus universities and test centres. It is telling that it was Panorama that uncovered these schemes, while the government had absolutely no idea this was happening.
Individual international students aren't the ones who should be punished by these schemes, or by the fact that a minority of non-EU students wished to stay in the UK and contribute to society. It's obvious to me that the leaders of these fraudulent systems are the ones who need to be severely scrutinised and held accountable for their actions. Why punish legitimate students as opposed to people who are trying to beat the law?
I got accepted to do a Master's degree in the University of York in September. All the people I met in Sheffield were incredibly welcoming but I am very scared of the current xenophobic, anti-immigrant atmosphere in the UK. It feels like going back to the UK is like going back to an abusive boyfriend. And I am not the only one who feels that way. In 2013 there was a decline in international students’ applications.
The ones who should be uncovering these schemes are those responsible for the visa system, not the BBC. But, as always, international students are used as scapegoats for a flawed system.
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