In early 2014, the panic set in. Two Eastern European countries, Bulgaria and Romania, had completed their 7-year initial membership in the EU and their citizens were now free to travel and migrate among all EU member countries. British Prime Minister Cameron was just sure that they would all try to come to the UK, because, after all, they were poor and only wanted the benefits that the UK would offer. So he went to the EU and proposed tighter restrictions on migration from “poor” countries, stating that open migration should only be allowed among the “wealthier” nations. He got some of what he wanted, but not all.
The Intended Consequences:
Cameron’s next step was to change migration and immigration policies at home, such as withholding all benefits for the first 3 months that an immigrant or migrant was in the country and then cutting off all benefits after 6-months. His rationale was as follows:
- People coming in only for the benefits would be deterred
- Reduced migration and immigration would save jobs for Brits
- He would achieve his goal of reducing annual migration and immigration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands
The other step was to revise the 5-tier system of determining who came in to the country, and once the quota was filled, no more could enter until the following year. The tier system is basically as follows:
Tier I: Those individuals who are highly educated and can fill positions that are in demand
Tier II: Those individuals who already have a position lined up before coming
Tier III: Those individuals who have skilled crafts or trades
Tier IV: Students who want to study in the UK
Tier V: Unskilled laborers
Obviously, Tier V individuals will never get in! These new “rules” apply to migrants from EU countries and to all others from non-EU countries as well.
The Unintended Consequences
The “new” rules place foreign students in a completely different position than before.
- They are now classified as migrants or immigrants when they were not classified as either in the past.
- Their position in Tier IV means than they may not ever get into the UK to study at all
- If they do manage to get in, they receive no benefits for 3 months, are cut off from benefits after 6 months, and may have reduced work opportunities as they complete their studies, even at the post-graduate level.
It doesn’t appear the Cameron and his fellow ministers gave this entire student situation enough thought before changing the “rules.” Now higher education officials are scrambling to convince Cameron that he has created a situation that will negatively impact the quality and reputation of some of the finest institutions in the world. Indeed, schools like Oxford and Cambridge could face no longer being competitive on the world stage, because highly talented students from all over will be forced to pursue their studies in other countries, where they are actually welcome!
Leading the Charge
Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge, is himself a story of the benefits of immigration. His parents immigrated to the UK from Poland during World War II when he was just a child. Over the years, he was educated and attended Cambridge, where he became a physician and a research fellow. He was ultimately knighted because of his research on antibiotics. The son of poor immigrants had become a major contributor in the area of world health, but if the UK’s current immigration policies had been in effect then, he never would have made it to the UK at all!
Borysiewicz has led the movement to pressure Cameron to re-think what he has done, and officials from all other universities have joined in. They point out the following facts:
- There are about 435,000 current foreign students in UK universities.
- About 60% of post-doctoral researchers at Cambridge alone are foreign students
- Graduate and post-graduate students make major contributions to research and development in all fields
- The loss of this talented cadre of students who have continued to arrive every year will mean that UK higher education will ultimately take a back seat to universities in all other developed countries
- Students should not be classified as migrants or immigrants, because most ultimately return to their home countries.
The “Ball” is in Cameron’s “Court”
Any changes to the new restrictive policies will have to come from Cameron. And until they do, foreign students who wish to study in the UK are simply in “limbo.”