Immigration Bill

Written evidence submitted by National Union of Students (NUS) (IB 46)

Introduction

1. The National Union of Students (NUS) is a voluntary membership organisation which makes a real difference to the lives of students and its member students' unions. We are a confederation of 600 students' unions, amounting to more than 95 per cent of all higher and further education unions in the UK.

2. Through our member students' unions, we represent the interests of more than seven million students. Our mission is to promote, defend and extend the rights of students and to develop and champion strong students' unions, including those in further education colleagues to ensure learners’ interests are represented.

3. This submission will look at parts two and three of the bill, which have particularly detrimental implications for students and the education sector.

Importance of International Students

4. International students contribute a great deal to the social and economic fabric of the UK by:

· creating and sustaining strategic education partnerships around the world

· facilitating knowledge exchange and intercultural awareness

· building relationships which enable UK business to compete globally

· contributing £12.5 billion per year to the UK economy

5. The Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE) calculated that international students provided £3.2 billion to the UK economy in 2013 from fee income alone, which amounted to 11.6 per cent of all fee income to English Universities. HEFCE further predicted a real-term increase of that amount by 24.5 per cent over the next three years.

6. When fees in further education and the private education sector are taken into account, along with the economic contribution of international students to local economies from the purchase of goods and services, this figure is much higher. The British Council reports that the most recent estimate of the economic contribution of international students to the UK is £12.5 billion per year.

7. A 2013 report by Oxford Economics commissioned by the University of Sheffield found that international students contributed a net total of £120.3 million to Sheffield in 2012/13. A separate Oxford Economics study has also identified contributions in 2012 from international students of £88 million to Exeter and £104 million to the South West Economy – supporting 2,880 jobs.

8. NUS believes that the benefits international students bring to the UK are cultural and social as well as economic. The presence of international students on UK campuses enriches the student experience. For example, two-thirds of non-EU international students in higher education responding to an NUS-HSBC survey on the student experience reported belonging to a university club or society – significantly higher than UK or EU-domiciled respondents.

9. The government’s confused approach to student visa policy is already having a negative impact on the perception of the UK as a place to study. International students are a highly mobile group, and it is clear that the UK is already coming to be seen as a less attractive place to study.

10. Currently, the UK is the second most popular destination for international students (after the US), according to the OECD. However, the UK share of this growing market has fallen from 10.8 per cent in 2000 to 9.9 per cent in 2009.

11. An NUS survey of 909 international students last year (conducted between 19 January 2012 and 21 March 2012) found that:

· 40 per cent of respondents said that they would not advise a friend or relative from their home country to come to the UK to study

· 62 per cent of South Asian respondents said that they would not recommend UK study to a friend

· 45 per cent of taught postgraduate respondents would not recommend UK study to a friend

Part two of the bill

12. The proposals to reduce the right to appeal in-country are deeply concerning – and risks significantly damaging both the ability of genuine international students to study in the UK and of institutions to sponsor them.

13. Table 8 in the Appeals Impact Assessment shows that 49% of "Managed Migration" (work and students) appeals are allowed. Given that 1 in 2 appeals by potential students and staff are upheld, NUS feels strongly that the current system does not have the administrative oversight to ensure decisions are being taken correctly. Removing the right to appeal in these circumstances, when the process still does not have the capability to make correct decisions, would effectively remove the right of genuine students to study in the UK due to Home Office error.

14. The removal of appeal rights would have a significant impact on the ability of institutions to sponsor students due to the nature of the relationship between sponsorship and successful visa applications. Intuitions are at risk of suspension or revocation of their Highly Trusted Sponsor Status (HTS) if more than 20% those they have granted place on a course to have been refused a visa. For smaller institutions, such as those in rural areas, or specialist institutions such as Art, Medical or agricultural institutions, reaching that 20% can be the difference of only a handful of students. If appeal rights are removed when home office error is so prevalent, this may have a significant impact on the ability of institutions to ensure that they make offers to those who will be successful. It is important to note that in the case of HTS revocation, ALL international students at that intuition will need to find an alternative course or be deported with no right to refund and no qualification. Put simply, removing appeal rights can have an impact on all international students, not just those subject to the appeal.

Part three of the bill

15. NUS believes the proposals to require landlords to check the immigration status of tenants in private rented accommodation will place undue burden and cost on all students who already struggle to find and afford quality accommodation while they study. It will also subject their personal information to unnecessary and unmanageable risks.

16. The bill proposes private landlords, largely unregulated and unenforced, collect and hold personal information they would normally never collect from students. Normal documentation for student renting does not require immigration information, or information relating to citizenship as for many students, the credit checking process is not suitable. These proposals risk providing very personal information to a landlord who currently has no requirement to protect that data or keep it securely. NUS finds this proposal deeply disturbing in an era where data protection is of the upmost importance.

17. The British Property Federation, The Chartered Institute of Housing, UNIPOL and the National Landlords Association have all expressed concerns that the uncertainty of how to comply with the regulations, and how to check the significantly varied types of immigration and citizenship documents, would result in "landlords favouring applications for accommodation from households which are easier to verify" and would be "unhealthy for the diversity of communities." This will have a higher impact on houses with multiple occupancy as each tenant will need to be checked separately, and already diverse communities which often occur in close proximity to education institutions. It is also important to note that younger students are less likely to have the documentation they require to show UK citizenship such as a drivers licence or passport and as such will not be able to provide this in the short time that many tenancies are agreed.

18. NUS are particular concerned about the difficulties these provisions will place on international students who are required or seek to secure their accommodation prior to arrival. For some students, not having an address where they will be staying when they arrive at the boarder causes delays and has caused refusal. Many towns and cities with multiple education institutions often face a severe shortage of housing at the beginning of the academic year, and the inability of students to secure housing prior to arrival as proposed by this clause, would place them at a higher risk of homelessness. In Glasgow there are only 9,395 purpose built beds for more than 52,255 full time students. In Brighton and Hove there are five full-time undergraduate students for every bed-space. The 2013 European Student Spotlight report by Savills proposes UK cities as their feature low-supply cities for student housing.

19. NUS is also deeply concerned by the bill’s impact statement suggestions that estate agents will stand to gain £36 million by charging landlords and tenants to carry out these checks. This additional cost is unnecessary given the rigorous checks that students are subjected to upon application, arrival and throughout their courses.

20. NUS is deeply concerned with the premise that Part 3, Chapter 2 National Health Service is based upon, namely that international students do not currently contribute to the National Health Service. The average tuition fee for international students is approximately £12,000 per year. Each student must prove a maintenance provision of at least £800 per month (up to nine months) before gaining a visa. Many will work part-time and pay National Insurance (NI) contributions. BIS suggests that international students contribute £7.9 billion to the UK economy each year. To suggest that they make no contribution to the National Health Service shows a flawed understanding of both the concept of contribution and the understanding of the way the National Health Service is funded.  

21. NUS highly values the contribution international students make to campuses across the UK and is deeply concerned the impact these proposals would have on the ability of international students to choose the UK to study. In particular, these proposals could have a significantly detrimental impact on the ability of PhD students, who are the most likely to bring families with them while they complete their research degree. An international PhD student with a spouse and two children would be required to pay £3000 at the point of visa application in addition to their visa costs which can be up to £781 per applicant and per family member. This would make the UK the most expensive option for PhD students at the point of application. It would effectively price many international students out of attending a UK intuition.

November 2013

Prepared 20th November 2013