UK: Sussex foreign students slate visa restrictions

The International Students' Office at the University of Sussex has been inundated with emails and inquiries from foreign students worried about the proposed clampdown on visas and employment rights for non-EU students.

"We sent an email to all international students informing them about the severity of the situation and asking them to comment," said one administrator. "We have been flooded with mails from students expressing their concern over the proposals."

The measures include raising the English language competency requirement, stricter limits on non-EU international students' entitlement to work and their dependants' entitlement to work during the period of study, restrictions on graduates staying on to work, and tighter visa application procedures for extending periods of study.

Students have termed the proposals short-sighted and unfair.

Har Lee Yong, a graduate student from South Korea, said: "I came to the UK to study and then gain some work experience. Now the government wants to close the post study work route completely. This has jeopardised my career plan. I wouldn't have come all the way and spent so much money if I had known that I would have to look for a job elsewhere."

Several students cited the post-study work visa as a major reason for opting to study in the UK.

Tessi Mugabe, a PhD student from Malawi, said: "I am not sure what kind of message Damian Green, the immigration minister, wants to send to potential foreign students. The current proposals clearly indicate that foreign students are not welcome."

She said most of the top universities in the UK employed academics from all over the world to stay competitive in the market for education and research. But the student immigration proposals would go against the whole idea of diversity and competitiveness.

"More often than not, foreign students coming to the UK are the brightest of their home countries. They work in highly skilled jobs and contribute to the UK's development and wealth," she said.

The restriction on employment has left students - who often look for part-time employment to cover part of the tuition fee - worried about facing hardship.

At present, all Tier 4 (General) students are able to work full-time during their vacations, and up to 20 hours part-time during term time depending on the level of the course. Under the new proposal, students will be allowed to work only on-campus during the week, and as many hours as they wish off campus at weekends and during vacation.

Kalink Sheikh Hasina, from Bangladesh, said: "Many of us come from poor and developing countries. The value of our currency is much less when compared to the sterling pound. Working part time is the only way to cover a part of the finances. If they restrict work to on-campus jobs, only a handful of students will find work."

Students complain the proposals apply the same criteria for judging all students irrespective of financial and academic needs. Some accuse Britain of divesting its moral responsibility towards former colonies.

Babalwa Ntabeni, an MA student from South Africa, said: "A lot of students come from poor and conflict-ridden countries. Many of them are from former colonies of the British Empire. The cultural, economic and social conditions in their countries may not be conducive to their going back immediately after study. The UK cannot turn a blind eye to its responsibility towards these students."

Hussain Ahmedi, an exchange scholar from Iraq, added: "The attack on Iraq has destroyed our academic culture. The UK is as much responsible as the US for the devastation of the war. Both countries should be implementing special policies to encourage academics and students from Iraq, and help rebuild higher education."