The United Kingdom officially cut the number of visas given to students who come from non-European countries by 25% on April 6, 2011.

According to official stats on the UK Immigration website, about 180 000 foreign students were admitted in 2009. The government’s longer-term aim is to reduce immigration numbers to less than 100 000 annually as students make up a large proportion of total immigration.

Wits International Office director Fazella Haniff says, “The European countries have been assisting South Africa to develop talent, but would end up recruiting them away, so this would be good. A good thing for South Africa, maybe not for some South Africans.”

One of the new conditions to qualify to apply for a UK visa is one’s graduate status.

The decision is also an attempt to reduce the number of people who work in low-skilled jobs.

The Post Study Work (PSW) visa has also been discontinued as of April 6. The visa allowed a student visa holder to stay for two extra years in the country after their studies.

“South Africa is trying to boost its economy and the number of its graduates,” Haniff says, explaining why this decision by the UK will benefit South Africa as well as other non-European countries by retaining their talent.

“There is no problem with going to study that side. [But,] Africans are asking developed countries to return their people, [so they can] add value back home.”

French foreign exchange student, Suzanne Chatelier, says, “It’s the same in France; it’s not easy to get a visa to work. European countries attract a lot of people, it’s normal that they would want to control that [immigration].”

“But,” she adds, “you need to think about two aspects. It’s normal to try to protect borders but you can learn a lot from them [foreigners].”

Haniff says, “The UK’s top universities are filled with foreign students and second-generation citizens.

“We are in a deficit in the knowledge sector. The global war for knowledge workers is everywhere.”