Student Immigration - A response to Teresa May's policy proposal

Submitted by SCM on Friday, July 17, 2015 - 10:00

Taylor Driggers, SCM's International Students Representative, shares his thoughts on the proposed ‘crack-down’ on student immigration.

By now you’ve probably heard of Home Secretary Theresa May’s reported plans to ‘crack down’ on student immigration. Under her proposed policy, which will be brought before Parliament next week, non-EU students would be forbidden to work part-time during their studies and will be forced to leave the country immediately after graduation before being able to apply for a job and work visa from outside the UK.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid and Immigration Minister James Brokenshire have both spoken in favour of the motion, citing a supposed need to prevent students from ‘abusing’ immigration policy by entering the UK job market.

As an international student who plans to live and work in the UK after graduation, I can’t help but feel like this circular rhetoric betrays an irrational fear of foreigners at the heart of the policy. Seeking employment in the country where one studied is only an abuse of policy if one already assumes that it’s wrong. But criticisms of May’s proposal, from academics and politicians alike, seem frustratingly reluctant to address this underlying fear, sticking instead to the purely economic side of the debate.

Paul Webley of SOAS, for instance, claims that ‘International students bring … talent to the UK that the country would not otherwise attract.’ It’s worth mentioning that May’s previous attempt to enact this policy was shot down in Parliament back in January, notably meeting opposition from May’s fellow conservative George Osborne, whose sentiments were almost identical to Webley’s.

Statements like this, however, implicitly privilege students like me above other immigrants such as migrant labourers, asylum seekers, and others. To adopt such an argument for my defence would be to preserve xenophobia - not to mention capitalistic greed - while exempting myself from its consequences. And that’s a role I’m not comfortable with playing.

Ultimately, in responding to the student visa debate, I’m reminded of words that stuck with me from a panel on speaking truth to power at SCM’s 2014 Conference Peace, Power, Protest - that if we, as Christians, are to challenge unjust policies, we must also challenge the foundations on which they are built. If we are to seriously engage with immigration from a Christian standpoint, we must expand our idea of the value immigrants bring to British communities beyond money alone. We must drop the narrative of attracting the ‘brightest and best’ and instead act to shift the public discourse toward one of global citizenship, brotherhood, and Christ revealed in the other.

For me, as an international student, that means sacrificing my ‘whatever convinces them’ attitude and looking beyond my own immediate desire to remain in my adoptive home.

Tags: international studentpoliticsstudent