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Student leaders condemn "discriminatory" immigration bill

Student leaders have condemned proposed regulations in the Government's immigration bill as "unworkable, unwelcoming and discriminatory".

Home Secretary Theresa May outlined provisions in the bill that will require temporary migrants, including overseas students, to make a contribution to the National Health Service.

The bill, expected to become law in Spring 2014, will also force private landlords to check their tenants' immigration status -- a move described as "unworkable" by international student representative bodies.

Daniel Stevens, International Students Officer for the National Union of Students, said the proposals would create new barriers to international students at the same as the UK's global competitors are welcoming them with open arms.

"Not only are the proposals unwelcoming, they are also potentially expensive, unworkable and discriminatory. Given the huge contribution international students make to the UK, they also stand to be self-defeating, sending a message that the UK is shutting the door on its international students," he said.

The bill would impact international students more than any other group as they already make up 75 per cent of those subject to visa controls, the NUS said. 

"Unfortunately we are already seeing that many international students feel unwelcome in the UK as a result of the government's policies. Further monitoring and regulation will cost more to the public purse than it will save, whilst also unfairly targeting a group in our society that contributes a phenomenal amount to our economy and to our communities," Mr Stevens added.

In its response to consultation on the bill, the UK Council for International Student Affairs said the proposals could seriously damage the UK's ability to attract genuine overseas students, potentially costing Britain's economy hundreds of millions of pounds in lost spending on tuition fees and maintenance.

The new responsibilities for landlords would make it far more difficult for international students to reliably secure accommodation before arriving in Britain, it said.

Requiring a contribution to the NHS from international students would be seen as an additional tax on studying in the UK, on top of visa charges increases of 300% over the past 5 years, it added.

"We believe it is no exaggeration to say that these proposals could have a major impact on the overall attractiveness of the UK as, for so many years, automatic access to public health services has been part of the inclusive package of benefits for those choosing to study here," it said.

Dominic Scott, Ukcisa's Chief Executive, told HEi-know: "It seems to us that international students bring so much income into the UK economy that is seems petty as well as not very cost effective to surcharge them in this way. We can understand the need to reassure the British public over public spending, but this move is unfortunate and unnecessary."

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said it was important that proposals in the bill were "piloted appropriately and impact assessed."

She added: “Such proposals must also be communicated properly to prospective international students and staff to ensure they are fully understood.
“Some of the reforms and rhetoric around immigration in the past have led to damaging, and often misleading, headlines overseas about the ability of genuine international students to come here to study.”

Immigration Minister Mark Harper said: "The Immigration Bill will stop migrants using public services to which they are not entitled, reduce the pull factors which encourage people to come to the UK and make it easier to remove people who should not be here.

"We will continue to welcome the brightest and best migrants who want to contribute to our economy and society and play by the rules. But the law must be on the side of people who respect it, not those who break it."