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Sunak Under Fire Over Student Visa Crackdown Demands

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Cabinet Split Over Plan To Slash Overseas Student Numbers

Once again Rishi Sunak finds himself trapped between warring factions within his fractured party, as the beleaguered Prime Minister faces intensifying pressure over proposals to restrict post-study work visas. 

Despite mounting opposition from across British society, Sunak is shamefully pandering to the more radical fringes of his party who irrationally demand cutting international student numbers, heedless of the consequences. 

Bereft of leadership or courage, Sunak looks set to inflict serious damage on Britain’s world-leading universities, trash the Conservatives’ pro-business credentials, and undermine the ‘Global Britain’ brand, simply to appease out-of-touch nationalists.

The evidence is clear – international students provide a £28.8 billion annual boost to the British economy and help maintain global talent pipelines in key sectors. They bring valuable diversity to campuses and communities, supporting local jobs and businesses. 

The public recognizes these benefits, backing increased student numbers. Yet Sunak is so weak, he cannot stand up to the zealots who would gladly sacrifice national prosperity on the altar of populism.

With immigration figures imminent, the fanatics are demanding ever tougher rhetoric and policies from this most feeble of Prime Ministers. But cabinet colleagues, vice-chancellors, businesses and the public want pragmatism, not populism. 

Sunak Stuck Between Populists And Pragmatists On Visas

Rishi Sunak is facing increasing pressure from within his own party over proposals to restrict post-study work visas for international students. The graduate route visa, introduced in 2021, allows international students to live and work in the UK for up to two years after graduation. 

However, some on the right of the Conservative party are pushing for the scheme to be scrapped or significantly curtailed, arguing it provides a backdoor route for migration. 

With a general election on the horizon, Downing Street is considering further limiting the graduate route in a bid to demonstrate that the Conservatives are taking a tougher stance on immigration compared to Labor. 

The latest quarterly immigration figures, due to be published this week, are expected to show high ongoing numbers, further heightening calls within the party for strong action.

But Sunak faces significant opposition to tighter restrictions on international students from within his cabinet. Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Foreign Secretary James Cleverly are all said to have concerns about the impact on universities, local economies and the UK’s global reputation. 

University leaders have warned ending the graduate route would represent an “act of national self-harm” for the UK. International students contribute an estimated £28.8 billion per year to the British economy through tuition fees, accommodation and other spending. 

Beyond the direct economic benefits, overseas students help create jobs, support local businesses and services, enhance the cultural diversity on campuses and maintain the UK’s attractiveness as a study destination. 

“But the value of our international students is not just economic. These are people who take the brave step to travel thousands of miles around the world to get a world-class education in the UK. They bring their ideas and perspectives and build a profound connection with our country which lasts long after they leave.” Dr. Michael Spence, president and provost of University College London, said.

Vice chancellors argue new restrictions would threaten the international competitiveness and financial sustainability of many universities, especially those outside major cities. 

With Brexit ending UK participation in the Erasmus student exchange program with Europe, there are fears further limiting international students could cause lasting damage.

Dr. Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group of universities, said: “The British public recognizes the value of international students to their local economy, to our society and to our global standing – and it’s therefore no surprise that they overwhelmingly want to see the numbers of international students increase or remain.

“There is clearly no appetite for reducing international students. Moves to further curb international students would represent a big misjudgment of the public from the government, as well as running counter to plans to grow the economy.”

Sunak Under Pressure As Poll Shows Support For Overseas Students

Business groups have echoed concerns about the skills implications, warning curbs would deprive companies of access to global talent. And public opinion appears firmly against any reduction in international students, whom the British public recognizes as bringing major social, cultural and economic benefits. 

While die-hard Brexiteers may favor tougher curbs, polling indicates this is far from the mainstream view. Most people believe international students positively enrich university life and local communities. With living costs rising, many also worry restrictions would drive up tuition fees for British students by reducing a vital source of university funding.

Sunak has so far held off a decision, stuck between competing factions within his party. But with the election nearing, immigration policy looks set to become a growing fault line. The former home secretary, Suella Braverman, who favors tighter controls, is among several potential leadership rivals advocating reduced student numbers.

Yet Sunak will be wary of alienating moderate Conservatives and floating voters. Strong public support for international students, backed by evidence of their net economic contribution, suggests a crackdown could backfire electorally. With the NHS workforce crisis acute, the health and social care sector is raising concerns over reduced access to overseas talent.

The government’s own Migration Advisory Committee concluded there is “no evidence” of widespread abuse of the graduate route. While Sunak mulls his options, further internal opposition seems likely. For university towns and cities across Britain, from Aberdeen to Brighton, the social and economic benefits of international students are clear.

Curbs would undercut ‘Global Britain’ ambitions by signaling the UK is closed to the world’s brightest and best. As city leaders, businesses and universities unite against any reduction, Sunak faces tough choices. But with strong public support, tampering with a successfully globally competitive sector may prove an unnecessary election risk.

While divisions within the Conservative party over immigration and international students continue to cause headaches for Rishi Sunak, there are also signs many Tory MPs who will stand down at the next election have begun mentally ‘checking out’ from parliament.

More than 100 Conservative MPs have confirmed they will not contest their seats again, with some now actively preparing for life after politics while still in office. One Tory backbencher admitted spending recent time arranging job interviews, despite potentially having months left to serve constituents.

Tory MPs Already Planning Post-Politics Careers

According to senior MP Philip Dunne, a number of colleagues, particularly younger ones, have understandably begun planning their futures beyond Westminster, given the uncertainty over exactly when the next election will fall.

Although constitutionally the election need not happen until January 2025, most expect it earlier, perhaps 2023. But with the timing unclear, it is hard for retiring MPs to know how to balance current duties with future career considerations.

Dunne, who will leave parliament at the election after 33 years as a candidate and MP, says he understands the dilemma facing colleagues. 

With a safe Conservative majority of over 23,000, his mind is focused solely on using his final months to deliver for constituents. But he acknowledges others do not enjoy such majorities and face greater financial uncertainties.

While insisting focus should remain firmly on parliament until the election, Dunne says it is reasonable for some colleagues to have one eye on securing their income after politics. This is especially pertinent for younger MPs with families to support.

As Sunak weighs the competing pressures within his party, the fate of Britain’s world-class universities hangs in the balance. 

Will he bow to the anti-immigration faction and enact policies that could irreparably damage higher education institutions across the country? Or will pragmatic heads prevail, and the clear evidence of international students’ enormous economic, social and cultural benefits win out?

The choices facing the Prime Minister are stark. Will “Global Britain” be open to the world’s talent, or close its doors out of misguided fear and insularity? Can the Conservatives cling to their damaging “tens of thousands” net migration target, or finally accept that international students are not permanent migrants? 

Does the party wish to be on the side of university towns and cities whose growth is fueled by overseas learners? And how will voters react if university finances are stretched to breaking point by arbitrary immigration caps?

Most pressingly, is the Conservative party truly willing to sabotage its economic credibility, trash its ‘Global Britain’ branding and betray thriving university communities across the country, all in a quixotic attempt to appease its most extreme anti-immigration fringe? 

As the decisive moment approaches, Britain awaits Sunak’s verdict with bated breath. The hopes and livelihoods of millions hang precariously in the balance. 

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