UK’s Crackdown on Immigration; What it means for Nigerians

Mixed reactions continue to trail the recent ban on work permit for foreign students in the UK following the announcement by British Home Secretary Theresa May. In a bid to control the rate of immigration into United Kingdom, and to curb the abuse of immigration rights by foreigners who refuse to leave the UK after their studies, Theresa May has ordered the ban of foreign students from working while studying in the UK.

The student visa is meant to create an opportunity for non-EU students who want to study in UK schools to get the best of education the country has to offer, but it is being abused by those who use it as a means to secure settlement in Britain. Under the new guidelines, foreign students can no longer apply for an extension of their visas upon completion of their studies in the United Kingdom, they can only re-enter after they have returned to their countries and go through a fresh application process.

While there is an ongoing debate between conservatives and Liberals on the merits and de-merits of this move, it is important to consider the reasons why there is a consistent increase in educational immigration, which saw over 121, 000 non-EU student entrants into the UK in 2014, with only about 51, 000 returning after completion of their studies.

Nigeria is readily a focal point when discussions and debates surrounding immigration arise, be it educational, or otherwise. In a 2012 statistic released by Mr Iain Stewart, member of the British Parliament, it was predicted that about 30,000 Nigerian students would be studying in various universities across the United Kingdom by 2015. Mr Eric Orife, a fresh Masters degree holder from Cranfield University UK told Ventures Africa that out of 71 students in his class, 41 were Nigerians, “it used to be two in 100,” he added. Nigerian was the largest source of African students in the UK in a 2012/2013 survey, and third highest of the total number of foreign students in the UK, trailing 39,090 recorded for India and 67,325 for China.

This surge in academic immigration in Nigeria can be blamed on two major reasons, amongst several; unemployment, and poor educational infrastructure. The country has been plagued by employment crisis, where almost 75 percent of the workforce is either unemployed or under-employed. Also, our education infrastructure suffers a decay, especially government owned institutions, resulting in untapped potential, and brain drain. What more is to be expected of a country where the budget on education is a little over 10 per cent?

The new immigration law has been received with mixed sentiments; some Nigerians believe that it is a blessing in disguise. They are of the opinion that when Nigerian students return from their study in UK, they can put all of their highly acquired knowledge and skills into developing the country. On the flip side, there is the possibility of students returning home to increase the rate of unemployment in the country.

The ban may also force African countries like Nigeria to begin to look into their educational sector, in order to improve the quality of basic tertiary education available to citizens. This will not only improve the quality of the workforce and resultant output, it will also save the country huge amount of foreign exchange in its present critical state where the value of naira continues to fall due to shortage of foreign reserves.

Another debate is the fact that the new law complicates the chances of  those who seek genuine educational opportunities in the UK, as they will be subjected to a tougher screening exercise at the embassy. It also makes it impossible for foreign students to make some income while studying to cushion the financial strain on them, especially after paying quite expensive tuition fees, coupled with other financial expenses that comes with living in a foreign country. Mr Charles Nwolisa, an engineer who obtained his Masters degree from Conventry University last year, said, working while studying in the UK helped him a lot.

“Most students were given 10 to 20 work hours a week. I particularly enjoyed that because it helped me make extra money to supplement the monthly ‘allawee’ – allowance my dad sent me.” Mr Nwolisa explained that warehouse jobs in the UK paid foreigners a minimum wage of about £6.31 an hour, which translates to about two thousand and twenty naira an hour, “assuming exchange rate was N320,” he said. This totals N16,153 a day, which is close to Nigeria’s minimum wage of N18,000 a month, multiplied by 20 hours allowed in a week, and by four weeks in a month … “that’s a lot of money to be made.” Most Nigerians who patronise foreign universities do so on a part time basis – work and school, so they can fend for themselves and send money home to their families. This latest development in the UK will certainly do a lot of damage for individuals who take advantage of work-study visas to cater for their families.

The new rule also has implications for the UK; Seamus Nevin, Head of skills at the institute of Directors, stated that the proposal to ban foreign students after completion of their courses, would damage not only the educational system, but the global and economic influence of Britain. He added that this proposal might hinder the progress and development in business, as it will mean dismissing highly trained graduates when the country needs them the most.

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