Immigration Bill

Written evidence from Russell Group (IB 21)

1. Summary

 

· Excellent international staff and students are indispensable for world-class universities and a thriving society, culture and economy. The Government must make sure that the immigration rules deter the fraudsters while continuing to signal clearly that the UK’s doors are fully open to genuine international students and staff.

· In order to grow the UK’s share of the international market for mobile students, and to ensure that we are attracting the very best academic faculty and research talent, Government policy must demonstrate that the UK values and welcomes the best and the brightest who contribute so much to our economy and our global standing in higher education.

· The following provisions in the Immigration Bill could impede our ability to take advantage of opportunities to grow international education in the UK:

- The introduction of a charge for temporary migrants to access healthcare services

- The introduction of landlord checks to tenants’ immigration status

- The amendment of the criteria for setting visa fees

- Powers to detain persons to be searched and to use reasonable force

· These provisions could add to the perception that the UK is not ‘open for business’.

2. Introduction

 

2.1 The Russell Group’s world-leading universities are global players, engaging in world-class research and education in many different countries. Our track record in attracting international staff and students has made a very important contribution to the considerable intellectual and financial success of UK higher education to date.

2.2 If we are to maintain our place in the premier league of global higher education, it is crucial that our visa system continues to support the efforts of our leading universities to attract the very best academics and researchers from around the world. Their expertise will be vital to the academic and economic life of this country.

2.3 The purpose of The Russell Group is to provide strategic direction, policy development and communications for 24 major research-intensive universities in the UK; we aim to ensure that policy development in a wide range of issues relating to higher education is underpinned by a robust evidence base and a commitment to civic responsibility, improving life chances, raising aspirations and contributing to economic prosperity and innovation.

2.4 Higher education is an important growth sector for the UK, making a significant positive contribution to the economy in its own right and underpinning growth in every other sector through its education, research and innovation activities. It is one of this country’s most successful export industries and is estimated to contribute more than £10 billion a year in overseas earnings – £3.9bn in tuition fees and £6.3bn in living expenses per annum alone. [1]

2.5 International students at Russell Group universities generate an estimate of at least £4 billion per annum. In Sheffield alone international students pump £120 million into the local economy every year. [1]

2.6 Although we are sympathetic of the need to ensure the UK immigration system is not open to abuse, changes to immigration regulation can significantly affect the UK’s higher education institutions (HEIs) and in particular our world-leading research-intensive universities as they rely on recruiting the best international staff and students from overseas.

2.7 Although Russell Group universities have a 23% share of the total number of students in the UK, they have a 36% share of the total number of non-EU students. Similarly, Russell Group universities are highly successful in attracting talented researchers and teaching staff from around the world, with the proportion of non-UK nationality academic staff around 33%, compared to an average of 19% for all UK HEIs.

2.8 Excellent international staff and students are indispensable for world-class universities and a thriving society, culture and economy. The Government must make sure that the immigration rules deter the fraudsters while continuing to signal clearly that the UK’s doors are fully open to genuine international students and staff.

3. The impact of provisions within the Immigration Bill on the health of the UK higher education sector

 

3.1 We are pleased that the Government has stipulated that there is no cap on international student numbers and that there are no plans to introduce such a cap. Likewise, the Government’s focus on taking advantage of opportunities to grow international education in the UK in the recent Industrial Strategy sends a positive message, with the target to increase international student numbers in the UK by 15-20% over the next five years.

3.2 However, there is evidence to suggest that recent changes to visa regulations as a result of the policy to reduce net immigration have already impacted negatively on international student numbers, in particular from some countries.

(a) For example, largely as a result of the changes to post-study work rules, new intakes of postgraduate taught students from India at Russell Group universities dropped by 21% in 2011-12, with a further 18% drop anticipated in 2012-13. Even the growth rate in new students from China has now started to taper off.

(b) By contrast, Indian student numbers in Ireland have doubled in the last year as the Irish Government promotes its visa ‘stay-back’ option [1] , allowing international students to remain in the country for 12 months after graduating to find work.

3.3 The following provisions in the Immigration Bill could all impede our ability to take advantage of opportunities to grow international education in the UK:

· The introduction of a charge for temporary migrants to access healthcare services

· The introduction of landlord checks to tenants’ immigration status

· The amendment of the criteria for setting visa fees

· Powers to detain persons to be searched and to use reasonable force

Access to healthcare services (Part 3, Chapter 2, Clauses 33 and 34)

3.4 Plans to introduce a compulsory levy for access to healthcare services could affect the UK’s competitiveness when seeking to attract international staff and students to study here.

3.5 The cost of student visas is already higher in the UK than in most competing nations [1] and the introduction of further restrictions and costs for such economically valuable migrants would be unhelpful. For example, an international student coming to the UK for 3 years could now be expected to have to pay £782 to cover the cost of the health levy, police registration and the visa fee.

3.6 We recognise that the Government is proposing a concession for students, but we recommend that students should be exempt from the health levy completely.

3.7 We are also concerned that the proposals will increase the tax burden on international staff and students working part-time, as they will already be paying national insurance contributions but will now have to pay the levy on top of this to access healthcare services.

3.8 Given that income tax and employee social security contributions for the average single worker in the UK are already above the OECD average [1] , the introduction of a compulsory levy could further affect our ability to attract key international talent.

3.9 Evidence published by the Department of Health demonstrates that the cost of temporary migrants, and students in particular, accessing NHS services is less than half that of the average UK citizen. A comprehensive impact assessment also needs to be conducted to analyse the potential wider impact of the proposed changes – for example to the UK’s export earnings and international standing.

Landlord checks (Part 3, Chapter 1)

3.10 International staff and students will be disproportionately affected by the introduction of compulsory checks to the immigration status of potential tenants by landlords.

3.11 The exemption for halls of residence is welcome. However, we would also recommend the exemption be widened to include properties rented out via the university’s accommodation service. This would reduce the burden of the regulation without affecting its aims:

· All international students on Tier 4 visas already have their eligibility to be in the UK checked both at the time of obtaining their visas and by their licenced Tier 4 sponsors when arriving at their HEI to study.

· HEIs employing international staff on Tier 2 visas already comply with stringent record-keeping and reporting duties.

· Further checks by landlords of properties rented out via the university’s accommodation service would be wholly redundant.

3.12 However, even if the exemption were extended, those attempting to rent private property will still be subject to the compulsory checks, which is a concern. Uncertainty on the part of the landlord could mean that renting a property to an international student or staff member could be perceived as too high a risk. Private landlords typically already insist on guarantors and/or 6 month’s rent (or more) upfront before letting to international students and these proposals are likely to worsen the situation.

3.13 This provision, if introduced, could have consequences for the international reputation of the UK higher education sector and would go against moves elsewhere in Government to ensure the UK provides a warm welcome for international students. [1]

Amending the criteria for setting visa fees (Part 6, Clauses 59 and 60)

3.14 As detailed above, the cost of a student visa in the UK is already far higher than in many of our key competitor countries. Amending the criteria for setting visa fees to introduce criteria such as the benefits likely to accrue to the person making the application in order " to increase income from fees " [1] , could make the cost o f a student visa even more expensive compared to our competitor s .

3.15 We are concerned that changing the criteria for setting fees in this way would ignore the significant income generated for the UK by international students .

3.16 The impact of a significant increase in visa fees on t he UK’s competitiveness in attracting international students would make such a policy entirely counterproductive to the Government’s growth agenda. The impact assessment issued by the Home Office does not take account of this.  

Enforcement powers (Schedule 1)

3.17 We are concerned about the provision of increased enforcement powers for immigration officers at the border including:

· The introduction of the power to search detained persons at the border.

· The broadening of the powers of immigration officers to use reasonable force.

3.18 As part of the Government’s stated policy to create a warm welcome for international students, we recognise that Border Force is working hard to improve customer service, while also maintaining the security of the border, and we welcome this work.

3.19 However, the introduction of further enforcement powers for immigration officers as described above would be counterproductive to the Government’s policy.

3.20 There have been examples of international staff and students mistakenly detained at the border, or where the individual has made an innocent mistake in interpreting visa rules, and under these circumstances, they could now be subject to much harsher treatment.

3.21 These provisions could add to the perception that the UK is not ‘open for business’.

3.22 In order to grow the UK’s share of the international market for mobile students, and to ensure that we are attracting the very best academic faculty and research talent, Government policy must demonstrate that the UK values and welcomes the best and the brightest who contribute so much to our economy and our global standing in higher education.

November 2013


[1] Data for 2011/12, BIS ‘International Education: Global Growth and Prosperity’, July 2013

[1] ‘The Economic Costs and Benefits of International Students: A report for the University of Sheffield’, January 2013

[1] Graduate Employment Scheme allowing those who’ve completed an undergraduate or postgraduate degree to work for 12 months after completion and to apply for a work permit to stay on after 12 months.

[1] The average cost of a stud ent visa across eight key c ompetitor countries ( US , Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ne w Zealand, Sweden and Denmark) is £157 compared to £298 in the UK.

[1] OECD tax database 2012.

[1] BIS ‘International Education: Global Growth and Prosperity ’ , July 2013

[1] As set out in the explanatory factsheet to clauses 59-60 by the Home Office

Prepared 8th November 2013