International student visas special report: The true cost of the UK's student crisis revealed

The true cost of the international student crisis revealedThe true cost of the international student crisis revealed
The true cost of the international student crisis revealed | NW
The Home Office’s tightening of visa rules have plunged international students, universities and local businesses into financial uncertainty and anxiety, writes Rei Takver.

Many say the crisis has the potential to ruin young lives, destroy the international reputation of UK education, and bankrupt universities across the country. International student enrolment in UK universities has dropped dramatically this year in the wake of huge shifts in Home Office visa policy. In December, Rishi Sunak announced a huge hike in the salary level required to apply for a Skilled Worker Visa, from £26,200 to £38,700.

Universities UK, which represents 142 institutions across the country, reported that international student enrolment into postgraduate taught programmes is down 40% in 2024 as a result. Last month, Home Secretary James Cleverly went further, asking the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to conduct a “rapid review” into the Graduate Visa, a post-study visa that currently allows recent graduates to live and work in the UK for two to three years.

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The visa changes have left UK international students feeling hopeless, uncertain, and afraid.

- A Colombian student who has built a life in the UK – with a job she loves, a partner, and a home, is now facing the possibility she’ll be forced to abandon her dreams.

- A young gay man from the Middle East fears that he’ll have to go back to a country where he must hide his sexuality.

- A Sri Lankan graduate who paid £1,000s up front for a Graduate Visa but was unable to find a job that would sponsor her, and has had to leave.

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- A French woman with Indefinite Leave to Remain still feels she’ll “never be good enough for England.”

- One young Indian mother who took out a loan and sold her most precious belongings to come study for a Masters in UK, and now is worried that she’ll have no choice but to return to India.

And many universities are also adopting a mobile phone app that allows an outside company to track and store student location data, which could then be used to deport international students. International students contribute £41.9bn to the UK economy each year which means every person in the UK is £560 richer because of them.

According to Labour MP for Sheffield Central Paul Blomfield, the city’s economy will be negatively affected if international student numbers dwindle. The economic impact is particularly severe for cities with more than one university, such as Sheffield, Manchester, and Liverpool. The Migration Observatory reports that in the academic year of 2021/2022, international tuition made up more than a fifth of the total income of UK universities. Losing that income would send many universities spiralling into financial difficulties.

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