May’s reforms deserved quashing

Copyright: Lucy Wegerif

Copyright: Lucy Wegerif

With anti-immigration feeling at an all-time high in the public psyche, you might have heard that the government’s most recent plans to curb immigration numbers has been quashed. Theresa May’s controversial plan to stop international students from staying in the UK after completing their courses came under fire from business tycoons and politicians alike. They have accurately criticised the plans as being the wrong solution to our immigration problem and argued the Home Secretary’s proposal would discourage highly skilled graduates from entering leading UK technological and scientific industries. This would lead to a reduction in our exports and could prove fatal to our improving economy.

Student immigration although a convenient target, is not the real issue which needs to be addressed. The Office of National Statistics reports that immigration for study has remained relatively stable in 2014 with only a 7% increase in university sponsored visas, a fraction of the total net immigration figure, while EU immigration has increased by two thirds. It’s clear the government got it wrong when they choose student immigration as the next problem area to be targeted.

While the government’s U-turn on this issue is good news for international students currently studying at York and other Universities who are looking to work and study in the UK after graduation, it is not wholly unexpected given the differing views of senior members of the Conservative Party. In 2013 Boris Johnson suggested special ‘London Visas’, that bypass the visa application process to make it easier for technology experts and fashion gurus around the world to work in the capital. There, they could “develop ideas, build new businesses and be part of an epicentre for global talent”.

Surely, similar arguments can be made for international students wanting to enter professions and industries that are important to other regions of the country.

Theresa May’s actions almost seem reminiscent of Minister for Magic Fudge’s actions in Harry Potter, the classic political move which allows the government to ‘make an easy target out of someone to make it look like they are really working to tackle the problem’ while the real source of the issue remains unaddressed.

Using international students as a scapegoat is evidently not what is needed to bring down immigration numbers. These are now edging towards the infamously high numbers reached under the last Labour government.

Harry Potter references aside, the question remains. What should be done to reduce the number of immigrants which has seen an increase of 38% since 2013? Or more importantly what can be done?

Immigration is an emotive issue in Britain and a hot topic with voters, which has contributed to the rise of UKIP’s appeal. The recent terror attacks in Paris have added yet more fuel to the anti-immigration fire. It seems we all agree that a strong stance on immigration is required and not just in this country.

The free movement of peoples as a fundamental right is an ideal that most people support in principle. However, practically, the EU system is failing to deal with either large scale economic migration within Europe or the waves of migrants looking to enter the continent.

There may not be a simple answer to these issues, but they are certainly something our government and its European counterparts need to deal with directly, rather than just brushing it under the carpet.

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