Student Visas - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Cambridge University Students' Union (SV20)


1.  Cambridge University Students' Union (CUSU), the Cambridge University's Graduate Union (GU), the CUSU International Campaign and the CUSU Women's Campaign are extremely concerned about the Government's plans to restrict Tier 4 migration (student route), and the effects that these could have on our current and future international membership. This evidence outlines our main concerns about some of the government's key proposals in this area, and the way that we believe they will negatively affect both the makeup of the UK's national student body and, particularly, the students at our own institution.


  • The closure of the post study work route will have enormously damaging consequences. It would have significantly negative effects on our ability to recruit the best international students in the perception it creates of the UK's attitude towards international students, in the attractiveness for the best international students of coming to the UK to study, and in our ability to recruit top researchers and academics over the long term.
  • The closure will damage our ability to hire the best international students for post doctoral researcher posts, which will compromise our ability to maintain and build successful research teams.
  • We will have invested considerable resources and time in training and developing the skills of international students, only for them to be forced to take these skills and abilities out of the country.
  • The proposal that students leave the country to reapply for a visa before progressing to a higher course of study will incur potentially substantial cost for the student, for no perceivable benefit and would, if implemented, further damage our ability to recruit effectively.
  • The proposed limitations for working whilst a student will limit our graduate students' ability not only to use their skills at other higher education institutions, but also potentially at their own.
  • The proposals on limiting dependents' entry and right to work seem to us unnecessary, and could further damage our ability to recruit.
  • We welcome delineation between "high risk" and "low risk" students in principle, if such a distinction is made on the basis of the trusted status of the institution, rather than on the basis of nationality.


Post study work route

2.  Many of our international students have expressed worry about the government's plans to close the post study work route in its entirety. We believe that all our graduates, whatever their nationality, have a great deal to contribute to the social and economic life of this country. We reject the government's limited conception of the student visa route only existing for the purpose of students studying here. Many of our international students come to consider this country a home or a place that they would like to spend a greater period of time in, and wish to continue to contribute their skills. It would be foolish to close the post study work visa, as we would be bringing in talented international students, devoting considerable resources to training them and developing their skills and abilities, only to send this talent away.

3.  We also have significant worries about the damage this will do to Cambridge University's ability to recruit international students. This is in part an issue that is caused by the perception of the government's plans and the message they send regarding how welcome international students are in this country. Successive immigration reforms have increased the perception of the UK for potential international students as a place that does not welcome the talents and skills that non EEC national can bring to our universities and our workplaces. We believe that this latest reform will dramatically and damagingly add to this perception. There is increased competition from other countries in the international student market, particularly from the United States, but also increasingly from China and India. Any damage to the perception of the UK as anything other than a country where international students are welcome will do enormous damage to our institution's (and the country's) ability to recruit the best international talent and minds. The immense value that our current competitive ability to recruit the best international students is something which, judging by the proposals as they currently stand, the government does not sufficiently appreciate.

4.  It will also damage our ability to recruit international students in other ways. As outlined in 2, much of the attraction for studying at Cambridge University for the best international students may well be the idea of completing a course of study here and continuing to work here after completing that course of study. In a similar way, as outlined above, this has the potential to do great damage to our ability to recruit the finest international students (both as an institution, but also as a country as a whole).

5.  Our ability to recruit international students being curtailed also has negative consequences beyond the immediacy of losing our share in the international student market. There is a high retention rate of people who are students in Cambridge (or in the wider higher education sector) continuing as academics at Cambridge (or in the wider higher education sector). If we, in the long term, lose our current share of the best international students, we run a very serious risk of losing our share of the best international (or of international origin) academics. And this would be enormously damaging to the quality of education and research that Cambridge, or the wider higher education sector, can offer.

6.  One specific concern we have is regarding international PhD students who, having completed their PhD, remain on for post doctoral research (as "post-docs"). They move from being students to employees, but do not have the same employment status as permanent or tenured academic staff. They are often continuing extremely specialised research in the area that they completed their PhD in. Though post doctoral researchers do not have the same level of qualifications as the permanent academics we recruit, they are often essential to the success of the entire research group. If we are to maintain our research at a world leading level and maintain the vibrancy of our research community, we must make provision for universities being able to recruit international students to these posts. We are extremely concerned that if the post study work route is closed, we will not be able to recruit the best individuals to these positions.

7.  The effect that this will have on the graduate and post-doctoral communities in Cambridge is particularly problematic if we are to maintain a world-leading research community. Currently, Cambridge is able to recruit the world's leading researchers. Part of our appeal is that researchers can pick students to become (as post-docs) part of a research group, a decision that they are uniquely placed to make. We worry that the closure of the post study work route will limit researchers' ability to do this, and thus increase the likelihood that top researchers will choose to work in countries where such free selection is possible.

Progressing through different courses

8.  The consultation documents seems to suggest that students, upon completing one course, should be required to leave the UK and reapply for another visa when embarking on a higher course is a particularly problematic one. The apparent reasoning behind this, that this would mark the fact that their initial visa has expired, seems to us to be completely arbitrary and pointless. If a student has an offer for a higher level course at degree level or above, that student should not be required to go through a laborious bureaucratic mechanism to gain a visa that the government already accepts the student is entitled to. This would incur potentially large costs for the student for no perceivable benefit.

9.  We also have recruitment concerns relating to this proposal. When deciding which country to pursue postgraduate study in after completing a degree, the best international students can often have different promised levels of financial support from different countries (and often the best packages of international support are offered from other countries, such as America). We believe that introducing this proposal would provide further disincentives for those international students who we have recruited remaining in the UK higher education system for postgraduate study.

Working whilst studying

10.  The proposals suggest that international students will, during the week, only be allowed to work for their own institution. PhD students often work for higher education institutions (teaching seminars, tutorials and lectures) other than their own, and under any proposals, we would be very concerned that this valuable opportunity for inter-institutional collaboration could be made illegal. We also have more general concerns for the planned restrictions on international students' ability to work, as they unfairly discriminate between UK and international students.


11.  Many of our current Master's students (the majority of whom follow one year courses) may bring families with them when they are studying at Cambridge. Under the current proposals, they would be prevented from bringing any dependents with them. Not only would this damage our ability to recruit, but it also seems an unnecessary restriction in general. We question the rationale behind requiring those who are here for a twelve month period or less not be accompanied by their families.

12.  Similarly, we are concerned that for courses that last over 12 months, international students will be able to bring their dependents but their dependents will not be permitted to work (unless they qualify under Tiers 1 or 2 in their own right). This also seems to be an unnecessary restriction, and would damage our ability to recruit the best international students, who we believe would be put off studying in this country if restrictions were imposed about whether their dependents could work or not.

Low Risk and High Risk Students

13.  We welcome, in principle, the proposal to differentiate between "high risk" and "low risk" students on the basis of whether the institution they are applying to is a Highly Trusted Sponsor, as to the evidential requirements they will have to meet for visa purposes. Currently, the difficulty of obtaining a visa is an enormous cause of concern for many of our international students, and we would be encouraged by an attempt to address that.

14.  However, we would be more concerned if the differentiation between "high risk" and "low risk" students was on the basis of nationality. Our international student body comes from all over the world, and we believe it would be in principle very difficult to justify holding them to different evidential requirements on the basis of what country they are from. It would also be, in practice, problematic to institute a system which discriminated between nationalities in such a way.


15.  We find the government's current proposals deeply worrying and damaging, both to our own institution, but also to the wider higher education and further education sector. It would be severely harmful to our own and the country's ability to recruit the best international students, would unfairly penalise international students, in many different ways, who we have trained and who wish to contribute to our economy and our society, and would damage our ability to build and maintain successful, world leading research communities. We urge the Home Affairs Select Committee to incorporate the concerns we have raised in its report to the government on these proposals.

January 2011

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