6 April 2012 was a Friday. It was probably raining. It was also a terrible, tragic, and traumatizing day for anglophiles, Braveheart fans, and royal wedding hopefuls alike. It was the day the UK Border Agency closed its post-study work visa route to new applicants.
The late post-study work visa (may she rest in peace) allowed international graduates to stay in the UK for two additional years following graduation. Ostensibly, this permit let non-nationals establish roots and look for work here without sponsorship. The visa tier basically bought the time needed to switch to another, more permanent visa tier. Scottish National Party MP Pete Wishart, a proponent of the former track, said it “enabled international students to help pay off their fees.”
While that may be true, it’s an objective that can probably be as easily achieved in the graduates’ home countries, sans the bureaucratic hula hooping. True penny-pinchers tend not to seek higher education abroad. Seems to me this whole scheme would have been a good excuse to hang out in a country I like more than my own for just a little while longer. Two years of legal international joblessness? That’s 730 days and 730 more chances to make Prince Harry fall in love with me. I could spend whole days reading Ted Hughes poetry aloud at the Sylvia Plath gravesite. Swapping the flannels for tweed blazers, I could drift around Edinburgh like an extra in Slacker.
Sweet gig, right? But hard to defend on the floor of Westminster Hall.
The untimely demise of the post-study work visa is but a sideshow to the coalition government’s legislative agenda to completely overhaul immigration law in the coming year. The new, creatively titled Immigration Bill will (attempt to) charge migrants for partaking in public services, deport more people, and generally make life harder for people not born in the United Kingdom.
One new requirement which hits home in university towns will require landlords to check international student visas and biometric cards before allotting accommodation. Temporary migrants will have to make contributions to the National Health Service. As far as the documentation goes, it is no more than any international student would need to get through the airport, and then again to matriculate. Yes, it’s a hassle, but not a human rights violation. The way some students reacted, though, you’d think The Lizard lost its liquor license.
“We will continue to welcome the brightest and best migrants who want to contribute to our economy and society and play by the rules,” said immigration minister Mark Harper. But so often the best and brightest translates to the rich and, well, richest. Each year, non-EU students bring in 2.5 billion pounds in fees, according to the Independent, constituting a massive economic boon for the UK.
I’ve repressed most of the memories from my own visa application hell, but I do remember having to provide proof of 7,200 pounds of “living costs” available to me, in one bank account, for 28 consecutive days. Many, many proper grown-ups, let alone 18-year-olds, do not have their living costs for nine months in advance immediately available to them in a single account for 28 consecutive days. Again, it was an inconvenience, but even being able to consider a university education puts me in the global elite.
There are ways around these immigration laws. These mostly involve being Gwyneth Paltrow, or making lots of money. If you following in the Jimmy Choo-clad footsteps of Her Royal Fashionista and study art history, you’ll probably have more luck being Gwyneth Paltrow. Annually, the border agency opens up a max of 1,000 slots for people that “designated competent bodies” consider “exceptional talents.” Face it; that’s evasive phrasing on a .gov.uk web address, so it probably involves making lots of money.
If all this posturing really is about tempering illegal immigration, the measures have been unsuccessful. Shadow immigration minister David Hanson contends that, despite the restrictions, “border checks have been cut with only half as many people stopped and illegal immigration has gotten worse.” It makes intuitive sense, because progressively narrowing the definition of what constitutes legal immigration actually broadens the classification of “illegal” immigration.
These stringent measures were remarkably successful, however, at reducing the number of Indian students by 25 percent in 2011. Is Britain xenophobic? Perhaps, but its universities aren’t: during at the same period of time, the number of Chinese students increased by 21 percent. Anyone in town can provide you with droves of anecdotal evidence proving that St Andrews is not hurting for foreigners, especially Americans. All evidence suggests that something larger and more complex is a play here.
The post-study work visa scheme was a score for internationals such as moi, and while I’m sad to see it go, there isn’t a defensible reason why it should stick around. I’ll just have to find another way to Harry.