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The National Union of Students has stepped up its campaign against the government’s proposed Immigration Bill, using a survey on its website to gauge the opinions of international students towards the Bill. The campaign is supported by LUSU, which passed a motion in Union Council on Thursday Week 7 of Michaelmas Term which mandated the Union to campaign against the Bill.
The Immigration Bill would impose a series of extra costs on non-EEA international students. The introduction of the Bill would see these international students charged up to £200 extra fees for healthcare. For postgraduate research students with families, that number could be increased to as much as £3000. The Immigration Bill is currently in its report stage in the House of Commons.
In response to the Bill, the NUS has developed a short survey for international students to help campaigning on the issue. While the NUS desired as many responses by Monday Week 1 of Lent Term, the survey is open until 5pm on Friday Week 3.
The NUS campaign is supported by LUSU, after a motion was passed during the Thursday Week 7 session of Union Council to fight the Bill. In a statement on its website on Thursday Week 8 of Michaelmas Term, LUSU labelled the introduction of the charges “discriminatory” and “counter-productive.”
“This sends the message to international students that they are not welcome in the UK,” the statement read. “Thus it is increasingly likely that more students will choose to study elsewhere, at institutions with more progressive policies and greater freedom of input for all.”
“We feel that the UK should be an ambassador for allowing international students the healthcare that home students are given without any extra costs.”
LUSU also said that charging migrants for use of the NHS was “completely unfair” for international students studying at Lancaster, who are already paying £14,000 a year to study at the university.
LUSU Vice President (Welfare and Community) Tom Fox said that he would be campaigning to push the issue with Eric Ollerenshaw, the MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood. “We sent a letter to the local MP saying that, as a Union, we’ve voted for this policy to be fought against,” Fox told SCAN.
“This is unfair on international students who are already paying quite a lot to be here,” Fox continued. “If you’re a PHD student you will be paying thousands of pounds just to step into the country so this is an issue we think needs tackling and more campaigning needs to be done.”
Fox however acknowledged that this was largely a “battle the NUS has to fight now – it is beyond us.”
Fox said he hoped the NUS will be successful with their campaign, though questioned their strategy. “The NUS have put out this questionnaire and asked if international students will take it. My personal perspective is that [the NUS] is just trying to get statistics to back up its own argument. That isn’t a bad thing – statistics can be a good way of convincing MPs… but at the same time a lot of international students won’t vote, so why would MPs care?”
“This is why I think we need to show that home students are also interested and they feel like it is a wrong decision on the part of the government.”
Fox praised Daniel Stevens, the NUS International Students Officer. “[Stevens] is an incredibly hard-working officer – one of the best – so hopefully he has something to go in there with.”
In addition to NHS charges, the NUS is calling on MPs to reject the aspect of the Bill which will introduce fines for any private landlord who does not ensure their tenants have the right to remain in the UK. In a statement on its website, the NUS said that this proposal “will effectively make unregulated and untrained private landlords a new branch of the UK border police, which is not their responsibility. This proposal would also apply to everyone in the UK despite their citizenship, and make it difficult for those without documentation to obtain adequate housing.”
“We are calling on the Government to scrap this unnecessary proposal which, when directed at students, could result in discrimination and duplication of existing heavy-handed immigration controls on students.”
On this issue, Fox told SCAN: “The Immigration Bill actually has several worrying aspects, particularly the authority it will give landlords. That could be incredibly dangerous, and it could create a lot of issues for international students which they don’t deserve… Hopefully MPs will find a way where this Bill will not affect international students.”
Meanwhile, the government is considering further ways to charge migrants to the United Kingdom for use of the NHS. Proposals include migrants to England paying for extended prescriptions, as well as charges for some emergency care. Overseas students are also expected to pay higher rates for dental and optical services.
The government said that the charges would allow the NHS to recoup money, while ensuring that only those who need urgent attention use the service. It also insisted that consultation with a GP or nurse will remain free, and that nobody would be turned away in an emergency.
Speaking to the BBC, Health Minister Lord Howe said: “having a universal health service free at the point of use rightly makes us the envy of the world, but we must make sure the system is fair to the hardworking British taxpayers who fund it.” Lord Howe said there are also plans to introduce a new system for identifying and recording patients who should be charged for NHS services.