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UK: Visa changes ‘may hit universities’

British universities could stand to lose out on millions of pounds annually if immigration policies are not changed, it has been claimed. Professor Eric Thomas, president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of the University of Bristol, said a number of recent visa changes could have the effect of deterring foreign students.

Universities UK fears there could be a clampdown on the number of international students in order to achieve net migration of less than 100,000 and is writing to the Prime Minister, urging him to class them as temporary, rather than permanent, migrants. Not doing so could risk losing the UK’s favoured status among overseas students, Prof Thomas warned.

“The UK seems to be telling the world it doesn’t welcome international students while other countries are travelling in different directions,” said Prof Thomas.

He added: “We are requesting that international university students should be removed from the net migration statistics for policy purposes, bringing us in line with our major competitors. We believe that this would help the Government by creating a clear differentiation between temporary and permanent migration, help universities whose international character is essential to their future success, and help the UK by contributing to economic growth.”

International students currently contribute £5 billion a year to the UK economy, a figure that rises to £8 billion when European Union students are included. There is the potential for that to increase to £17 billion by 2025 and “create thousands of jobs”, Prof Thomas suggested. If universities face a decrease in overseas admissions, they could each lose “£5 million or £7 million” a year, he added.

Prof Thomas said attracting overseas students is “exactly the type of activity the Government should be supporting in these difficult economic times”. He added: “There are significant economic benefits and growth in this area, and we believe removing international students from net migration figures, which is what other countries are doing, will send very positive signals around the globe.”

Recent changes include the fact that international students can no longer bring their dependants with them, unless they are taking a postgraduate course which is at least 12 months long, and there is a “more selective” system in place for students wanting to stay in the UK to work after completing their studies.

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