UK visa rules may force Chinese student exodus

08:15, December 15, 2010      

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Tens of thousands of Chinese students in the United Kingdom (UK) could be forced out of the country if a basket of strict visa policies takes effect next year.

The UK's Home Office intends to tighten visa regulations for international students to reduce the country's annual net migration and cope with high domestic unemployment.

The Home Office has posted a consultation on its website to seek public opinion about the proposal until Jan 31, 2011.

The regulations would cancel the Post Study Work (PSW) policy, which grants foreign graduates of specified courses up to two years of free access to the labor market.

It also raises the English-language requirement for many foreign applicants from level B1 to B2. B1 is equivalent to an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) score of 3.5 to 4.5, while B2 is equivalent to an IELTS score between 5 and 6.5.

"Students now represent the largest proportion of net migration from outside Europe," the Home Office said on its website.

"We need to ensure that the number of international students coming to the UK is broadly in balance with the number leaving," it continued.

"There is concern that the UK is attracting students who aren't always the brightest and the best in recent years. The government wants to ensure that those who enter on a student visa come here to study, not to work or with a view to settling here."

The Home Office said too many students, and especially those studying at private colleges at non-degree levels, are not in compliance with their visa terms.

So the office must take action to weed out abuse of the student system, it said.

The British embassy in Beijing's press officer David Shaw told China Daily on Tuesday that no decision has been finalized. The British government is still undertaking its eight-week consultation on PSW and other elements of the document. However, British media expected the proposal will not face many obstacles.

Reports said more detailed rules would be released in January.

If the policies were adopted, at least 20,000 Chinese students may have to leave the UK in coming months as their visas expire, the Beijing-based Mirror Evening News reported on Tuesday, quoting sources from the British Council in China.

About 85,000 Chinese are in Britain on student visas. About 20,000 are taking language classes or other courses beneath the bachelor-degree level.

"Many of my Chinese friends in Cardiff are packing and getting ready to return to China," said 24-year-old Lian Chen, who recently returned to Beijing from the UK upon finishing his post-graduate studies.

"Some have studied and worked in the UK for about 10 years, waiting for the opportunity to settle there. I looked for jobs but the proposed policies changed my plan to develop a career there."

Shen Ziqian, who graduated from Birmingham University, said: "If I had known I had to return home immediately after graduation, I wouldn't have chosen to study in the UK in the first place."

However, Bu Nannan, a consultant with study abroad agency JJL Overseas Education, said the PSW cancellation's impact might be limited.

"Before the PSW was introduced, the number of Chinese students going to Britain was already quite large," she said.

"Although there are more students coming to us asking about the permit, most applicants still plan to go back home after their studies."

By Chen Jia and Ai Yang, China Daily
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