While the government “does not want to restrict their access per se”, it will likely introduce some restrictions on entry to ensure the student visa route does not become a back door for EU citizens to work in the UK, according to the document, a draft position paper on the UK’s post-Brexit immigration policy, published by the Guardian.
“We may need to introduce some restrictions to ensure students are genuinely intending to study, in the way that we do for non-EU students, by checking academic ability, English language skills and sufficiency of funds,” it says.
“There has been no let up on the attack by governments since 2010 on the great success story of the internationalisation of UK universities”
The paper is a draft and proposals are subject to negotiation with the EU, but it sets out a hard-line stance on immigration that gives “preference in the job market to resident workers”.
The 82-page document which is marked “sensitive”, also suggests measures to curb freedom of movement and work rights for EU citizens.
If implemented, low-skilled workers could only obtain a two-year permit to work in the UK, while highly-skilled workers could be granted a five-year permit.
“Put plainly, this means that, to be considered valuable to the country as a whole, immigration should benefit not just the migrants themselves but also make existing residents better off,” the paper says.
There are also plans to restrict the rights of EU citizens already in the UK to bring family members into the country.
Freedom of movement would end immediately after the UK’s exit from the bloc, while other changes would be introduced in a phased approach, allowing for a transitional ‘implementation period’ of at least two years.
“During this implementation period, we do not expect to apply to EU migration the same sponsorship arrangements… that apply in respect of non-EU highly skilled workers and students,” the paper notes. Universities wanting to recruit EU students are therefore unlikely to have to sponsor them under a Tier 4 licence for the first two years post-Brexit.
It adds that arrangements will be put in place for EU students whose courses finish after the implementation period, “in order for them to be able to complete their studies in the UK without risk of interruption”.
As well as outlining specific measures affecting EU students, the document indicates that there will be little change in the government’s entry requirements for those from beyond the EU.
“The perfect storm massing against British universities will create financial damage and reduce the UK soft power in the world”
It lists a number of ways in which the government has tightened the international student visa route, including raising English language requirements and cracking down on “bogus colleges”.
These measures are to ensure only the “brightest and best” study in the UK, it says, but they have not all been welcomed by the sector.
“There has been no let up on the attack by governments since 2010 on the great success story of the internationalisation of UK universities,” Vincenzo Raimo, pro-vice chancellor (global engagement) at the University of Reading, told The PIE News. “The latest leaked report unfortunately comes as no surprise.”
He added that some universities, including Reading, have responded to the changes by expanding their overseas footprint.
On August 23, home secretary Amber Rudd announced an independent study on the contribution of international students to the economy. However, the leak “will dash hopes that the government was considering a more liberal approach to overseas students” as a result of the review, suggested Aldwyn Cooper, vice chancellor at Regent’s University London.
“The perfect storm massing against British universities will create financial damage and reduce the UK soft power in the world,” he told The PIE News. “It is a disastrous position being caused by political philosophy and expedience, and not based on rational analysis for now and the future.”
The document was dated August 2017 – the same month new exit check figures debunked the claim that there is widespread abuse of the student visa system, which has been used to justify repeated tightening of legislation.
The vast majority of international students – 97% – return home after their studies, and concerns about students overstaying their visas have been wildly inflated, the statistics showed.