"Period of cautious optimism': What does Labour Party's reign in UK means for Indian students?

With the end of the 14-year Conservative rule in the United Kingdom, people are hopeful that this might be the start of a new era with Centre-Left dominance. Will this mean that there will be a lax in immigration policies? Are Indian students to benefit? Read more here
Newly elected UK PM Sir Keir Starmer and wife Victoria Starmer
Newly elected UK PM Sir Keir Starmer and wife Victoria Starmer(Source: EdexLive Desk)

"Whoever you are, wherever you come from, Britain should be a country where hard work means you can get on in life."

This is a direct quote from the 2024 election manifesto of the Labour Party.

With Sir Keir Starmer being elected as the United Kingdom's (UK) new Prime Minister, the 14-year rule of the Tories came to an end.

Now, let's look at what this new development would mean for Indian students. 

It may be recalled that the previous Conservative Government led by the former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was determined to pass stricter policies on immigration. 

According to a PTI report published on May 20, 2024, Sunak had faced considerable flak for planning to impose restrictions on the UK's post-study work visa which allows graduates to pursue a career for up to two years after completion of their studies in the country.

So, what would a change in governance mean for the Indian students?

Sanam Arora, Chairperson of the National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU) UK highlighted the key aspects of how the election of the Labour Party might mark a tangible change, especially when there has been a period of turbulence.

"This is a period of cautious optimism. We believe that this will mark a period of stability. We have been working with Sir Starmer's top leadership teams. Substantial emphasis has been given to the post-study work visa for the students, and the net positive impact it has on the UK's economy," said Arora.

She further highlights that there will be no adverse impact on the existing policies that were in regulation.

"Indian students, not migrants"

The Graduate Route Visa, which allowed students to stay in the country unsponsored and look for employment post the completion of their course, was placed under review to keep a check on migration. However, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), the body responsible for conducting the rapid review of the route, found that the visa was NOT abused by international students, as was the allegation.

However, ongoing speculations and a dependent visa clamp resulted in a 16% drop in Indian student applicants and an overall 10% fall in net migration, as compared to 2022, according to the UK Home Office data based on the Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures.

Arora, talking on the issue, said that previously, there was a continuous environment of anxiety and instability, but added that there might be an end to this indecisiveness now. "The good news for international students is that there will be no more policy flip-flopping, and no sudden changes introduced," shared the NISAU UK Chairman.

The President of the Indian National Students Association (INSA) UK, Amit Tiwari, claimed that there will not be any massive disruption, but added that it is too early to speculate. 

"The Labour Party understands that the UK economy needs to be stabilised, and acknowledges the economic contribution of the Indian students. The country suffers from a shortage of skilled and unskilled labour and Indian students help address the gap," said Tiwari.

Arora, too, purports that Indian students are legal migrants, greatly adding to the economy. 

"The Labour Party understands the scenario holistically and acknowledges that there are far bigger structural issues. The problem of immigration is a greater crisis but students are not migrants, rather assets," expressed NISAU UK's Sanam Arora. 

Britain has nothing to lose with Indian students coming in, say experts

British Universities gain largely via the funds received from international students, which, in turn, resolves the crisis these universities may face, and also provides subsidised education to the local students. 

Not only this, but Indian students also add to the knowledge bank. 

Amit Tiwari told EdexLive that PhD students from India are one of the biggest cohorts, bringing in major development in the research sector. He asserts that the PhD funding dipped during the rule of the Tories, but the new party might change it. 

"It is fairly obvious how Indian students or other international students contribute to keeping the universities afloat. This is now a globalised world, and the UK being one of the major economies of the world, will always be a welcoming country," deliberates Tiwari. Furthermore, the INSA UK President informed EdexLive that they will be holding meetings with the elected education minister to discuss matters of importance.

EdexLive also spoke to Ian Crichton, CEO of Study Group, a platform assisting international students with their aspirations to study abroad, who said that the new government, with a commitment to improving bilateral relations, would further foster the UK-India relationship, thereby, opening up a treasure trove of opportunities for students. He emphasised that Indian students have been thriving in diverse fields like engineering, medicine, and law, and their success in academia and beyond highlights the enduring partnerships and opportunities available in British universities.

"Students are a 'living bridge' between India and the UK. The Labour Party’s continued support for welcoming policies and the affirmation of the UK’s diverse identity ensure that Indian students can pursue their academic ambitions with confidence, supported by a rich cultural legacy and a welcoming environment across British universities."

New or old, policies to continue benefitting Indian students

Ending the speculation around barricading of international students, Sanam Arora stated that the new government has made the economy and its growth, the top priority, with a focus on increased productivity. She added that in the coming year or two, students might benefit from newer, improved policies. "It is a new dawn in the UK, the party has received a single majority for the first time. There will be limitless opportunities opening up if they (students) deploy the right strategy."

Saurabh Arora, the founder and CEO of University Living, a global housing platform with accommodations in and around the UK such as London, Birmingham, Nottingham and Liverpool, says that irrespective of change in governance, international students will always be of topmost priority. 

"Current policies and laws will continue to back genuine students while identifying fraudulent cases. Additionally, the recent MAC review, which advocates the retaining of the two-year post-study work visa for international students, shows that the government and related bodies are upholding the students' interests as one of their paramount priorities," said Arora. 

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