by Robyn Banks

Last week, yet another of Theresa May’s lies was revealed: the number of international students staying in the UK after their visas expire isn’t anywhere near as high as she has frequently claimed. The idea that international students frequently stay in this country illegally was a touchstone of her policy whilst she sat as the Home Office Minister and has continually been backed up by her cabinet colleagues, including her successor to that ministry Amber Rudd.

However, on Thursday 24th August, the Office for National Statistics released new migration data showing that only 4600 international students have overstayed their visas. Not quite the hundreds of thousands that May, Rudd et al keep harping on about.

It is not surprising that the Tories have been making these claims falsely. Vince Cable, who served in the coalition government’s cabinet alongside May, has described her as ‘Obsessed with her target to bring down migration’; a fair representation of the last 7 years she’s had at the top of the British political system. Be it attacking students or refugees, May has gone to absurd lengths in her attempts to reduce net migration and appease the hard right of her party.

It is not surprising that the Tories have been making these claims falsely.

The inclusion of international students in the data was nothing but a ploy to try and back up the flawed logic of this project. No hard evidence was available to back up the claims that were being made. The policy of adding International Students to migration figures is a cynical attempt to increase the pressure on universities to monitor their students, whilst they are already treating them as one of their main sources of income.

Unlike ‘Home’ students who pay up to £9000 a year in fees, international students pay up to £35,000 a year to attend the institution of their choice. On top of this they have to prove they have ‘significant savings’ before they arrive. And once here, their visas are limited so that they have to get a job or leave when they finish their studies. All this has, unfortunately, discouraged international students from attending our universities in recent years, with UK Council for International Student Affairs CEO Dominic Scott commenting that numbers of first year attendees from many countries have ‘stagnated‘.

This will have a major effect upon the institutions that those students would have attended. Through the marketisation of education and increases in tuition fees, many universities have settled on a funding model that makes them reliant upon international students in order to  help bolster their profits, or in the case of smaller institutions, keep them afloat. And of course it will also be detrimental to the other students who would have shared their campuses with new international students. Each Campus is its own ecosystem of different groups that get the chance to mix and merge across different cultures there, in a way that doesn’t exist outside of campuses. Students’ lives and the life of society as a whole would be impoverished without international students.

These attacks the Tories have been carrying out have always been inexcusable – now we learn that their attempted excuses were downright lies. On the same day these findings were released, Amber Rudd launched the Migration Advisory Commission, which will look at the economic and social impact of international students on the UK. NUS have welcomed the review, saying they are ‘confident that it will reveal what NUS and others have been saying for years; international students bring many cultural and economic benefits to this country’. No doubt it will give the lie to more dubious Tory claims as well.

These attacks the Tories have been carrying out have always been inexcusable – now we learn that their attempted excuses were downright lies.

The lack of security in their right to stay as well as the vast amounts they pay for that unstable existence will continually factor in the decisions that international students face. The least this country can do is treat them with the respect they deserve. The current government has failed at every occasion to do that. But now, with these findings released and May disgraced, there is hope that we can start shaping a government which cares about international students as people, not just numbers.

At the end of the day we need to remember that International Students aren’t just numbers in spreadsheets or cash cows to be exploitatively milked. They’re human beings just like anyone else, and need to be treated as such.

Featured image by Jan McLachlan

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