Top British businessmen have urged British Prime Minister David Cameron to remove Pakistani students from official immigration figures to avoid choking off a valuable source of wealth and skills.
The businessmen warned that visa restrictions designed to bring net immigration below 100,000 a year would deter wealthy foreigners from outside the European Union.
Among those calling on Cameron to reverse the policy are CEO WPP and Formula One Non-executive Director Sir Martin Sorrell, CBI former director general Lord Jones and Lord Bilimoria.
They say Britain needs “to be able to attract the best minds from around the world” and that the country needs “to send a clear message that genuine international students are welcome to study in the UK”.
The business leaders added, “They are integral to the success of British business and we must do everything we can to ensure their future contribution is not compromised.”
The changes to the visa system have already hit university applications from countries such as India, with some institutions reporting a fall. Bilimoria said, “We are a global economy and need to be attracting the brightest and the best.”
The British universities are seeing falls of more than 50 percent in applications from Pakistan as the first signs that foreign students are being put off coming to Britain by the government’s crackdown on migration.
Many of the candidates from Pakistan are instead expected to take up places in Canada, Australia and Europe where student visa policies are becoming more liberal as they compete with Britain for the booming market in international students. Asif Bhatti, CEO of the House of Consultants Pakistan, while talking to Daily Times said that Pakistani students who even passed the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and other testing bodies approved by the UKBA are being refused by the British High Commission saying that their English ability is not good enough. “Pakistani students are being discriminated,” Bhatti said.
The British government has pledged to reduce net immigration to “tens of thousands” and experts believe this cannot be done without deep cuts to the 298,000 or more non-European Union students coming to British universities and colleges.
They are Britain’s biggest source of migrants from outside the EU. Last week Eric Thomas, vice chancellor of Bristol University and president of Universities UK, wrote to David Cameron warning that changes to visa rules, including tight restrictions on the ability of foreign students and graduates to work in Britain, could cost the UK much of the five billion pounds that students pay in tuition fees.
Thomas said in his letter that in Pakistan, China and India, Britain was increasingly seen as “putting up barriers to entry” and added, “The UK seems to be telling the world it doesn’t welcome international students.” Britain is second only to America in the world higher education market but is slipping as other countries free up their rules for student visas.
Although undergraduate applications from outside the EU have increased this year when postgraduate numbers are also included, some universities have already seen falls. Damian Green, the Britain’s immigration minister, said: “There is no limit on the number of genuine students who can come to the UK and our reforms are not stopping them.”
Daily Times report, by Asif Mehmood