Foreign students in the UK may soon feel the Brexit burn. New plans to restrict the number of migrants seeking to live in the UK, including those who come to study, have roiled a typically diverse population often prized inside and outside the country: its students and universities.
"I feel the UK is increasingly gathering a reputation of being an exclusivist nation," Kunal Purohit, a student from India studying at SOAS in London, said. "It's not fair for students who are paying so much to be told that their courses are not good enough."
Speaking at the Conservative Party conference, British Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced several new measures including proposals to deport EU citizens for minor crimes and extending powers to pursue landlords and employers who knowingly employ or rent to illegal immigrants.
Rudd didn't stop there, though. The Home Secretary said her office would be consulting on new plans to look at whether student immigration rules could be tied to the quality of the university, and to the courses being taken. Explaining the measures, Rudd said: "Foreign students, even those studying English-language degrees, don't even have to be proficient in speaking English. We need to look at whether this one-size-fits-all approach really is right for hundreds of different universities."
The move has been met with dismay from several universities. Susan Roth, an administrator at SOAS, said the plans were stirring worry in colleges across the UK. "The UK has always represented the most diverse student population," she said, adding that the proposals may scare off international students. "We saw this happen with the cancellation of work visas. The perception was that it would be difficult to get a visa, and that cut down on student numbers."
Sally Hunt from the University and College Union told The Guardian that Rudd's proposal "equates to pulling up the drawbridge and sending a message that the UK is closed for business." She proposed ministers take a different tack, one that would exempt international students from the country's general migrations target.
International students generate a whopping £7bn a year for the UK economy, but numbers have been falling, and by last spring, the total number of applications from non-EU students had dropped by 6 percent. The dropoff has sparked fear that June's Brexit vote prompted some students to seek a university education elsewhere, and that the new restrictions will soon make such decisions a trend.
The new plan follows the UK government's stated intentions to get the immigration numbers down to a "sustainable" level. Last year net migration in the UK rose to 333,000.