A number of common misunderstandings, often perpetuated in news articles, can hinder sensible debate on international student policies. Here are six commonly held misconceptions:
1. "Any organisation calling itself a college can recruit non-EEA students"
No. Since the introduction of Tier 4 of the Points Based System any college wishing to recruit non-EEA students must first be inspected and accredited by an Education Oversight body approved by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) and only then can they apply to be included on the UKVI Register making their students eligible for visas.
2. "Once students obtain visas, no-one knows where they are and if they even register at universities or colleges"
No. Student visas are tied to the institution which issued the Certificate of Acceptance for Studies (CAS). Those institutions are then required to report to the UKVI any students who do not arrive and register. If they do not do so adequately, they can lose their license and no longer recruit non-EEA students.
3. "Once students have arrived and registered, they then don't turn up to study"
No. Institutions have to monitor attendance and progress and report any students to the UKVI who are not participating adequately. If they do not do so, they can lose their license and no longer accept non-EEA students.
4. "Students take housing and/or other UK state benefits"
No. A non-EEA student has, by law, 'no recourse to public funds' and therefore no entitlements to any housing or state benefits (apart from access to the NHS. In addition, students coming to the UK for longer than six months now have to pay an immigration health charge (£150 per year) regardless of whether they use the NHS or not).
5. "Students often work rather than studying, taking permanent British jobs"
No. Non-EEA students have limited work entitlements, if any. Depending on the terms of the visa they may only work for 10 or 20 hours per week during term time and full time in holidays, or in some cases they may not work at all. They may not work for themselves or fill full-time permanent vacancies.
Students who wish to stay on and work after studying must apply for a visa to do so. The main route, Tier 2, allows students to stay on for graduate level jobs only if they will be paid more than the stipulated minimum salary for the relevant profession.
6. "Students do not, as they should, go home after their studies have been completed"
Data on the number of students who leave the UK at the end of their studies is extremely unreliable. The UK government relies on the International Passenger Survey which surveys only 0.2% of travellers and there are many reasons why students are particularly difficult to capture in the data. Even the Home Office's own report (Migrant Journey: 5th Report, published by The Home Office on 18th February 2015), states that: “As the UK does not at present have full exit controls, it is not possible to estimate the proportion of those whose entry clearance visa or extension of stay has expired who have left the UK”.
A survey in 2013 found that only 6% of a sample of students applying to study in the UK were attracted by the idea of staying on.