By Any Means Necessary: Welcome to the Border State

The decision to revoke London Met’s ability to teach international students is a curious one. Closing down bogus colleges and visa mills is one thing. Deporting three thousand students is quite another. What was the rationale for this? A UKBA spokesman told the Guardian about ‘serious and systemic failings’ that meant that ‘Allowing London Metropolitan University to continue to sponsor and teach international students was not an option.’ Universities minister David Willetts said that ‘It is important that genuine students who are affected through no fault of their own are offered prompt advice and help.’ Defending the UKBA, conservative writer Ed West points out: ‘Student migration is now the largest route for non-European migrants to take, and has been so since 2008’.

It appears that this is purely a numbers game. And I like Willetts’s emphasis on ‘genuine’ students. Again, people paying a visa mill is one thing. But are we now defining a ‘bogus’ student as someone who applies to a UK university with the intention of living in the UK, making use of his degree and contributing to society? I thought we all had to go into education with that kind of vocational motive in mind?

When I first moved to South Manchester the bars were full of American, European and Asian accents heard on the streets and ringing in the twilight of the early evening balcony at Trof Fallowfield. The city would be an emptier place without them. As West points out, London Met is a bad university, 118th out of 120th in the tables. But there’s nothing I can see that would stop the UKBA applying these restrictions to every university in the UK. Universities already have to recruit UKBA compliance officers. A lecturer told me recently that she regularly receives ‘warning emails to keep my registers up to date cause of UKBA.’ This has clearly been mainstreamed and HE professionals are now expected to help track down those the UKBA say are ‘illegal’.

And it was clear from the Commons debate on this that London Met is basically a pilot. Potential high flier Tory Amber Rudd got up and said: ‘Reducing immigration levels is important to my constituents, who welcomed the admission by the Leader of the Opposition earlier in the year that there had been uncontrolled immigration under the previous Government. May I urge the Minister, therefore, to reform all routes of entry into the UK, including the student visa route, in order to build on the reductions he has already achieved?’

We have a border agency that hectors universities that they should be doing the UKBA’s job for them, and is trying to turn Britain’s universities into a compliance arm of the UKBA. With the coalition’s obsessive numbers game it is inevitable that bright people from other countries will conclude that it’s not worth the hassle of trying to study here. I mean, it’s not like Britain’s the only country that has good universities. For all the rhetoric about preserving British culture, the UKBA pursues numbers and process at the expense of Britain’s cultural reputation. Private Eye’s Lunchtime O’Boulez column compiles numerous stories of travelling classical musicians hassled and messed around by border police, to the extent that the game just ain’t worth the candle. So we can deport a few lazy engineering students but not any of the almost 400 suspected war criminals currently living in this country. Doesn’t it help you sleep soundly in your bed that your borders are guarded by people with such investigative rigour and common sense?

We’re always being told that we ‘can’t talk about immigration.’ On Thursday there was another parliamentary debate. Guess which policy area. It was triggered by a Migration Watch e-petition that urged the government to ‘take all necessary steps to reduce immigration to a level that will stabilise the UK’s population as close as possible to its present level and, certainly, significantly below 70 million.’ This was picked up by Tory Nicholas Soames and tedious Merseyside Blue Labourite, Frank Field. The Commons passed this motion.

The anti-migration obsessives will froth and moan, but they can be strangely coy in places. They will highlight real or imagined problems, but maintain a reluctance to answer the basic question: ‘What would you do about it?’ The SNP’s Pete Wishart was one of the few dissenting voices in the chamber that day. He asked a very good question:

This nasty little motion mentions ‘all necessary steps’. Does he realise how authoritarian that sounds? The right hon. Member for Mid Sussex mentioned four steps, but what other ‘necessary steps’ would the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) propose?

I would add a few questions for Field, Soames, Migration Watch, the Daily Mail, Telegraph Blogs and all the others who invest so much emotion and energy in opposing immigration.

– When you say ‘all necessary steps’, what exactly do you mean by that? Could you explain what these steps are and how this would work in practice?

– Who would the ‘necessary steps’ apply to? Do you want to cut the numbers of refugees, economic migrants, students or family migrants? What is the selection criteria here?

– You go on about your love for the free market, yet you advocate protectionist policies that would prevent other people competing with your sons and daughters for jobs and university places. Could you explain the contradiction.

– Following on from that, if you close the doors to migrants, will you be able to find the young workers that we need to sustain an ageing population with subsidised pensions and social care? Do you think that autarky is a sustainable economic policy in a globalised world?

– You say that there are not just economic, but also cultural problems with immigration. For example, you quote an IPPR report that claims ‘It is no exaggeration to say that immigration under new Labour has changed the face of the country.’ How would you address this in practice? Would you want to deport people with ILR, who have been naturalised, second and third generation immigrants, people who came over on the Windrush? Would there be a kind of social engineering experiment to recreate Britain in the late 1950s? Just how far with this do you want to go?

– You are concerned about population growth and certainly we have problems with overcrowded housing and schools. It’s not clear that these are the fault of immigrants alone but never mind that. But have you considered that the population scares of the 1970s turned out to be completely unfounded and that the consequences of having a declining population are a little more difficult to deal with?

– You moan that you have been called a racist for talking about immigration, and you suffer from the ‘fear of saying something that would be called politically incorrect and thus being labelled as racist or anti-immigrant by the media.’ It’s okay, we are all friends here, no one’s accusing you of anything and we’ll take it for granted that you are not racist. But isn’t it true that the restrictions you propose will disproportionately affect people with different colour skin? Do you accept that some criticism of immigration is demonstrably racist and that all racist parties in this country are committed to stamping out immigration?

– Is there a lower level of immigration that you would be happy with?

22 Responses to “By Any Means Necessary: Welcome to the Border State”

  1. Colin Says:

    I may have a British passport, but I have sometimes been questioned about me studying in the UK, and living with my relatives here. Particularly an obnoxious UKIP person that shall be unnamed called into question my presence.

    Thing is I’m binational: my mum is English and my dad in Swedish. I’ve lived about half my life in Sweden, and half my life in England. Of course that means that in Sweden I’m considered “that English boy” and here in England I’m called “the swede”.

    If UKIP and their ilk got their way, I’m sure I’d be on a plane back to Sweden, because obviously I’m only here to take advantage of the educational system. I think by extension that this must mean that Swedish education is at the level of the Ugandan one.

    Obviously I’m not non-EU, but I don’t think it matters to the people that promote these kinds of things. If they could include me in this, they probably would. Regardless of my passport.

    • maxdunbar Says:

      Thanks for commenting here and you make good points – there are people in England who are suspicious of you if you come from a different TOWN let alone another country

  2. Ben Says:

    If the UKBA’s new policy on universities is expanded and it becomes hard to foreign students to come to the UK, foreign universities may cut ties with their partner universities in the UK.

    As a result UK students will miss out on study abroad programmes, some of which are manditory for foreign langauge/european studies ect courses.

    But then again I think the MigrationWatch crowd will be happy as with the increased number of narrowed horizons.

    (Off topic: isn’t Frank Field the guy who believes that blood can’t clot during the full moon?)

  3. Attitudes and norms according to a tired binational « Colinology Says:

    […] hypocrisy is mirrored everywhere, and Swedes are not unique or even particularly uncommon. Max Dunbar wrote about immigration, and for one that has been questioned about why I go to school in England, […]

  4. mrbrew Says:

    well written, and highlights the use of a flaw in a system to destroy other liberties.

  5. rami ungar the writer Says:

    With America having its own immigration woes, I can understand your frustration. I also find it sort of idiotic that one university is being targeted, even if it’s not a high-standing university. At my school, our international student body is very big, particularly with Chinese students, and they are an important part of school life. I think it would be horrible to do anything to them.
    Sometimes I eally am baffled by politicians and what they say and do.

  6. Vn-Japan Says:


  7. Jean Says:

    “Thanks for commenting here and you make good points – there are people in England who are suspicious of you if you come from a different TOWN let alone another country”

    Really. But then, there are some Albertans who dislike Torontonians and Torontonians disliking some Vancouverites. I’m speaking like this because I’ve lived in all 3 areas of Canada. From a Canadian born Chinese who does occasionally have to answer: “Now where do your parents really come from?” After I’ve told them I was born in Ontario.

  8. hewling1 Says:

    I think that when they shut schools down that they are screwing us over by making us pay more for schooling

  9. rmk Says:

    Very well written. Perhaps you should get involved with politics — you probably don’t want that.

    It is alarming to hear about this in general, and in particular as a Canadian who is thinking of doing a masters in the U.K. Not being able to get a visa after paying tuition would be horrible.

    I don’t understand why people are so anti-immigration. One upside of being from a settler state is that we have a much different attitude towards immigration and have no natural culture or ethnicity to preserve — though we are definitely a white European settler state.

  10. thegreatgodpan1 Says:

    interesting…especially for me….im british born but left when i was 3 years old….i have a default british passport even though ive never lived or worked in the UK… wife has a british passport as both her parents are british born although she is south african by birth… would these anti immigration people view us if we ever chose to return?…..and more important how would they view our children?……….

  11. jumeirajames Says:

    . There was a time when British policy was to encourage people from other countries to study in Britain – not for altruistic reasons but for the fact that people who study in a country tend to have an affinity with it. So a British trained engineer in in (say) Iraq, would be predisposed to order equipment and goods from Britain. There is a political influence gained as well.

    But since Britain doesn’t make many ‘things’ any more maybe this type of influence isn’t needed?

  12. iamtheinvisiblehand Says:

    Excellent post, well written…

    The whole immigration topic is full of pros and cons, and it takes an all-encompassing analysis to really decide what to do in each case.

    I mean, becoming the hardest student visa to get will just deter students – including the “genuine” and the good students – to study somewhere else.

    I think govts. kid themselves by thinking they are actually better off by protecting their own. Really?

    Are there really enough British citizens willing to take on lower-level positions such as nannies and housekeepers, gardeners and construction workers, to mention just a few occupations? Or maybe all they want is to restrict qualified foreigners so that the higher-level jobs are left to the British? I think this is one of the points that the gvt must clarify.

    I lived in France for several years and all I can say is that many of my classmates were foreigners too, and even though we worked twice as hard as our French classmates (since most subjects were taught in French and none of us were native speakers) and were usually way ahead of them in all the ways that counted, we were always offered entry-level positions, while the natives were offered mid-level management. And that’s the message that stuck: even if you’re better than the other French candidates, you’ve got the wrong nationality and you are not worth the hassle of getting you a work permit…

    I truly believe it is a mistake to miss out on the chance of hiring a qualified foreigner or accepting a foreign student, not only because he/she may be the best person for the job or has proven to be a good student, but also and most importantly, bc a foreigner can bring so much to the table in terms of life experiences and different perspectives.

    Anyway, just my 2 cents…

  13. thetorontodiarist Says:

    Oh, the repercussions of divide and conquer. The idea of nationalism have always baffled me, especially that I’m coming from a 3rd world country. They don’t want us but they need our resources. That’s your basic lesson on parasitism. I must agree with iamtheinvisiblehand. My diploma means nothing in Canada, and to suffer an utterly condescending remark at work just because I am a subordinate. It’s as if to say that my credentials are bogus.

  14. Audrey Says:

    An interesting read. I don’t profess to know anything about the issues you’re raising, but I paid enough attention in Sociology classes in college to know that society-wide issues are never simple and often have unintended consequences. Thanks for raising some of them; let’s hope that the right people take notice.

  15. marz Says:

    Reblogged this on marz stuff and commented:
    On a different note from my usual topics, I thought this would be an interesting piece to read.

    Many people fail to realise that there are many types of immigrants everywhere, and that people from other European countries also are immigrants.

    Anyway, read and form your own opinions, maybe let me know your thoughts if you want to share!

    marz (Spaniard)

  16. transitionstande Says:

    An interesting post. I didn’t know that was happening, as I have emigrated to a place where I have no rights as a foreigner!

  17. Ashagi Harahap Says:

    Talk about lots of change for being international student in UK — My dad did both his master in Wales and PhD in England in 1999. We all went along as a family and never had this kind of problem.

    He did stop half-way during his PhD and “hover” around for 6 month before going back home and I think you can’t put that as “lazy” student, but we never had that kind of respond the current international student experience now.

    I was considering taking my master in UK before I decided to go to Australia. I guess I’m made the right choice with the current issue about being international student happen in UK.

  18. thecrowfrombelow Says:

    I think your penultimate point is exactly the nerve that some of the anti-immigration brigade don’t want touched. For many, I suspect it’s the basically the only way they can get away with being racist. I’ll never forget talking to one of my old flatmates about the block of flats being built down the road from us. “Probably going to fill up with immigrants…” he said with disdain, apparently oblivious to the fact that his girlfriend was from New Zealand and therefore, technically, an immigrant. I can only presume she “didn’t count” because she was white.

    • maxdunbar Says:

      Friend of mine has a Pakistani mother, but a white father. She’s white. Was in the pub with some guy started on about Pakis etc. She challenged him: ‘I’m Pakistani.’ Response: ‘Oh, you’re all right.’

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