The UK government is considering further crackdowns on visas for non-EU nationals, which will include Indians, to curb its soaring immigration figures.
While no details of the plans have been unveiled yet, prime minister Theresa May is believed to be examining options to toughen visa rules for students and some workers from outside the 28-nation EU.
The move comes despite recent Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures indicating there has been a “statistically significant” drop in the number of students coming to the UK from outside Europe.
“There was a statistically significant decline in the number of non-EU citizens migrating to the UK to study, from 134,000 in the previous year to 111,000. There was a statistically significant decline in citizens of South Asia, with the number coming to study having almost halved,” ONS said in its Migration Statistics Quarterly Report last week.
India is the third largest category in terms of student visa applications after the US and China, with 10,664 granted between June 2015 and 2016.
However, a further crackdown is likely to lead to a sharp drop in those applying to UK universities.
“Brexit, unfortunately, could compound the problem for the UK’s world-class higher education sector, risking, as it does, £800 million of EU research funding, top EU research
talent and some 50,000 EU students enrolling every year.
“The rumours that Theresa May is planning a fresh crackdown on student visas are, therefore, extremely worrying,” James Pitman, managing director for the UK’s Study Group said.
“If we are to maintain our position as a global education powerhouse, and protect one of our most valuable exports, the government must give both EU and non-EU students a fair deal
and take overseas students out of net migration targets,” he said.
India has already raised concerns about further clampdowns on visas for its students and workers coming to the UK.
It does not want to see a further toughening of Tier 2 visas as Indian migrants on the visa already have to be earning more than £35,000 to remain in the UK.
“The government has taken up the matter bilaterally with the UK government at various levels and expressed concerns over the changes in UK visa rules,” Indian commerce minister Nirmala
Sitharaman said earlier this month.
Indian nationals have accounted for 57 per cent of the UK’s total skilled work visas granted (53,548 of 93,935), with the US the next largest nationality group (10,019 or 11 per cent of the total).
Any further crackdowns will undoubtedly hit Indian professionals the hardest.
“It is true that recent governments have had little success delivering on pledges to cut immigration, but using cuts in students to reduce overall numbers is at best short- sighted,” said Craig Calhoun, the outgoing director of the London School of Economics (LSE).
The fresh crackdown reports follow recent ONS data revealing that net migration for the UK is still running at more than 300,000 a year despite the Conservatives pledging to
cut it to the tens of thousands.
“While we wait for the outcome of Brexit negotiations, it’s essential that the Prime Minster sets further action in hand on non-EU migration which is half the total. The biggest source of migration from outside the EU is clearly students, very few of whom are recorded as going home. This is where action needs to be focused,” said Lord Green, chair of Migration Watch.
While control on migration from within the EU will be the key focus in the coming months as Britain begins its Brexit negotiations to leave the economic bloc, cutting figures from outside the bloc are expected to go hand in hand.