International Students in a New Scotland

A new immigration law for international students became law on the 17th of July 2023. This new law prohibits international students from bringing in their dependents unless they study a Phd* post-graduate course. It further denies international students the opportunity to switch visas until they finish their programme. 

First, on the issue of prohibiting students from coming in with their dependents, the government has woefully ignored the impact this would have on the mental health of international students. Many international students come from countries built on having their community, a lifestyle different from what is often experienced in the UK. The difference from many community-focused Global South nations makes the move to urban, busy UK university-based areas challenging to build a support system, especially when you have a short period to do so. Although students in post-graduate courses have a longer time in school and can develop their community over time, the same cannot be said for MSc students who have less than a year to work on that.

Notwithstanding, a recent survey conducted at one of the Scottish Universities in Glasgow showed that many international students feel isolated from their classmates. The consensus was that their home classmates could have been more intentional when drawing in international students. As a result, international students are often forced to rely on their immediate families or more local regional societies for their connections. This has a negative impact on the mental health of international students as they are left feeling isolated for the duration of their studies. Therefore, this new immigration law does nothing but exacerbate further the isolation international students face by denying them the opportunity to bring in their support system rather than relying on the benevolence of the people they meet to provide that support for them. 

Although the Scottish government criticised the new law and stated the impact of international students, not only in the economic consequences (it is estimated that international students contribute more than £4 Billion to the Scottish economy) but also in building the social and cultural diversity of Scotland, the Scottish government still has a way to go to ensure that international students are supported to be their full selves and contribute equally in the society. These include ensuring the diversity of the counsellors available through the NHS, improving the housing situation in Scotland, and allowing spaces for the growth of culturally diverse restaurants and shops. I know that by saying the Scottish government should improve the diversity of NHS counsellors available through the NHS, some people will latch on to the harmful rhetoric of the UK government stating that the influx of international students is overburdening the NHS. This would be a great time to remind ourselves that ALL international students pay a health surcharge to cover their years in the UK at the point of their visa application, as well as migrants being a significant workforce enabling the NHS to exist. To further worsen the situation, when Rishi Sunak was asked how he intends to raise the money to meet workers’ demands, he stated that the government would be increasing visa and health surcharge fees which would further impact international students as if international students are not paying enough as it is. Currently, international student fees are DOUBLE what home students pay and THRICE that for some courses. 

Also, international students have NO RECOURSE TO PUBLIC FUNDS, so they are not getting any portions of funds allocated to the public; they do not take from public resources funded by the taxpayer. This is despite many international students contributing to the UK budget through income tax via their part-time roles. However, regardless of their tax payments, even if they fall into financial hardship which during a cost-of-living crisis, is becoming increasingly more likely, they will not have access to any government support interventions. We have also seen evidence of some landlords in Scotland refusing to rent their homes to international students and that enough housing is simply unavailable, further contributing to the many challenges that international students face when settling in. The National Union of Students in Scotland reported earlier this year that one-fifth of international students had faced homelessness. It is not enough for the Scottish Government to say that it is appalled by the newly adopted immigration law for international students; they must create an environment for international students to thrive regardless of the hostility of the immigration law.

Second, the ban on international students switching their visas before the completion of their studies will further limit job opportunities for international students which enabled them to contribute even more to Scotland. In the past, postgraduate students could switch after their first year, but this has now been extended to 2 years. The change to regulation now means that the months after they submit their dissertation and await their results, they will not be able to take on sponsored employment, thereby potentially derailing their careers. Considering how difficult it is for international students to get jobs in the first place because of sponsorship, this additional barrier is unfair and unnecessary. With the current financial crisis reflected worldwide, the government thinks that international students are exempt from the brunt of the crisis as this new law shows no consideration for the financial impact on international students.

Now, while there’s much talk of a glimmer of hope for international students in Scotland at the prospect of Scottish Independence and what that would mean for them, there’s little information from the Scottish Government regarding the plan for international students and how they would stand to benefit from Scottish independence and integration in the “New Scotland”. Although the Scottish government cannot make its own immigration rules now, it can put policies in place to mitigate the impact of these rules on international students in Scotland. Words of anger are not enough.


*Although students in *PhD* post-graduate courses have a longer time in school and can develop their community over time, the same cannot be said for MSc students who have less than a year to work on that.

Image credit: Universities Scotland 

Comments (5)

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  1. Tim Hoy says:

    The title of the”Hostile Environment” policy certainly does what it says on the tin.

    Not just hostile. It’s heartlessly cruel and makes no sense whatsoever when there’s an opportunity for ALL migrants to contribute so much more than just much needed money to the treasury.

    I’m directly affected by this nonsense. Brexit and all the pain that goes with it (Thanks Teresa May – the instigator of the aforementioned racist Hostile Environment).had already cost me £16,000 from my savings but today another £1,500 was added to that sum as I try and get my wife the requisite visa to join me here and help me get to and from my radiotherapy treatments for prostate cancer.

    The visa and NHS fees were paid last month but the Home Office has been hopeless and the decision whether to allow a husband and wife to live together is being dragged on indefinitely.

    Scottish parliament really does need to do more than tut at the injustices highlighted in this article. Otherwise it’s just complicit with Westminster and that never ends well.

  2. Dr Adaeze Nwona Nzewi says:

    New laws are supposed to make people better and not impoverish them. Therefore law and policy makers ought to put that in perspective. Moreover without doubt every country of the world benefits one way or the other from each other.
    As such, more stringent measures in new laws to making it impossible for international students not to achieve their full potential in countries they have gone to study in quite unfortunate and unfair.
    Because international student are out of their country to further their education should not alienate them from their loved ones and culture.
    I stand with the writer because their mental health is very important for them to succeed in their studies. And further increase in both visas and HNS fees, yet their inability to switch visas to enable them get a job could be termed as new slavery.

  3. Mike Picken says:

    Most undergraduate overseas students are young, typically 18-21 years, and rarely have families. However Taught Masters students (MA/MSc etc) are often mature, in a career, have a family, and spending over a year away from home is tough psychologically and financially but also rewarding in the long term. But most are temporary migrants and return overseas after their course is complete. The UK government know all this very well, but are using the changes in the law to simply reduce the headline figures for migration that Daily Mail readers get exercised about. We live in a sick state.

  4. SleepingDog says:

    I suppose the British Empire is really concerned with educating the children of its dictator allies, who seem entirely untroubled by the chance of their offspring picking up worrying democratic ideals from elite British educational institutions. Such a cohort is unlikely to have dependants or financial difficulties, and therefore at considerable advantage in securing placements.

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