Immigration moved to the forefront of the political discussion in more than one country over the past year, increasing public attention on international students in destinations that include Britain, Canada, and Australia.
Britain, which attracts more overseas students than any country but the United States, set a largely negative tone. Its coalition government has pledged to reduce the number of immigrants, and, despite intense lobbying by universities, has chosen to include students in those figures.
The British government’s recent elimination of the so-called work entitlement for foreign students at private institutions, in a bid to eliminate abuses by universities that primarily enrolled students whose main goal was to work illegally, has had an impact on legitimate institutions as well.
Some 100 private universities that enrolled foreign students studying for two-year degrees offered in collaboration with universities or students aiming to transfer to universities have closed down in the past year, says Dominic Scott, chief executive of the UK Council for International Student Affairs. While the crackdown has eliminated bogus institutions, it has also affected many that “were quite good,” he says.
Although foreign enrollments at public universities have held relatively steady, they are unlikely to grow significantly, Mr. Scott says. And there are worries that the crackdown on private institutions will have a ripple effect, as one source of potential students has essentially been eliminated.
STUDENTS are annoying. They sleep till noon, listen to awful music and think Jackass is amusing. However, these are hardly compelling reasons for any nation to curb the influx of foreigners to its universities.
America has the best universities in the world, but its immigration enforcers have done a good job of making them less attractive. The proportion of the world’s overseas students who come to America has fallen from 23% in 2000 to 18% in 2009. America educated 66% of the world’s MBAs in 2000; that share fell to 44% in 2011, and has shrivelled even in absolute terms, from 126,000 to 116,000. The biggest turn-off is the difficulty of obtaining a work visa after graduating—even highly-skilled foreigners typically wait a decade for a green card. President Barack Obama pays lip service to the need to open up, but has overseen millions of deportations. A new study from the Kauffman Foundation, a think-tank in Missouri, finds that anti-immigrant politics appear to have stunted American enterprise. The proportion of Silicon Valley startups with immigrant founders has tumbled from 52% to 44% since 2005.
Britain has turned even harsher. The Conservative Party has promised to reduce net immigration from 250,000 a year when it came to power to 100,000 by 2015. Since it has no control over the number of EU citizens who enter Britain or the number of Brits who leave—the two main drivers of net immigration—it finds itself squeezing students from outside the EU.