“Unsustainable” Student Migration or a Gold Mine?

Yesterday’s news of UK immigration minister Damian Green talking of student immigration being “unsustainable” and suggesting changes to the visa laws interested me. Why?

  1. My research is on student emigration out of Ghana and many Ghanaian students end up in the UK. I know personally that many of them stay on (21% according to the Home Office).
  2. Green’s speech was based  on interesting numbers showing, among other things,  that the number of student visas issued increased the last years  to 362 000 in 2009. Meanwhile, the official story has been that because of terrorism it is harder to get a student visa today compared to 10 years ago.
  3. The “unsustainability” according to Green is in the UK! A country which has a 12,5 billion pound education industry,  according to the National Union of Students in the same article.

Other voices from the blogosphere includes Sara Mulley/leftfootforward.org who writes:

It seems that we must ask: what is the Government worried about?  There seem to be two main concerns. The first is entirely legitimate – it seems likely that some abuse of the student visa regime continues, despite the measures taken by the previous government. This may be a particular issue with visas issued for courses below degree level (which account for up to half the total), and with visas issued to smaller colleges and institutions.[…]

Their other concern is about total net immigration to the UK.  Rising student numbers is one of a number of factors making it harder for the Home Office to meet its target of reducing net immigration to ‘tens, rather than hundreds, of thousands’ a year.  […]

Although rising foreign student numbers increase net migration figures in the short term, most student migration is temporary, so it’s not clear what the impact is in the longer term.

I have seen some evidence in Ghana that to apply for  a visa as a student it is a strategy (mainly because all other routes have closed). I think it supports my theory that courses below degree level account for a big chunk of these visas.

Blogger  Mark Hillary suggests that

The UK is an attractive place to study. English is the language used for study and daily life, and even though the universities charge non-EU students a lot more than Europeans, a British education remains good value compared to American colleges.

Mark’s comment reminds me of something I once read about the intangible value of the use of English to the UK which manifests in sales in dictionaries, literature and education.

The migration might be unsustainable. But much more likely, student migration is a gold mine for Britain (and its effects highly complex for developing countries, if now anyone cares about that).

Photo credit to the Guardian.