GE Series: Why International Students Should Vote

The season of door knocking and leaflets invasion is upon us. Although it came 2 years early, its time to face the music and prepare for the 8th of June. Many international students studying in the UK don’t know that they too have a right to vote. This information is never explicitly relayed to them and impacts a significant voting population that gets directly impacted by policies of political parties. So why should International students vote in the UK General Elections?

In a series of blog posts, I will look at different reasons from different students associated with different political parties on why Internationals should be involved in GE 2017.

Commonwealth Voting Rights

Students studying full time in the UK who are nationals of ‘qualifying commonwealth countries’ or from Cyprus and Malta, have a right to vote in any election that happens in the UK. Pretty cool right? To find out whether or not your country comes under the category of qualifying commonwealth country, check here.

Why Should I Vote?

Now that is a very interesting question. As international students, we might feel that we are temporary guests in the UK. 3 years or 2 years or even just 1 year, political parties and their policies don’t really affect us. Right?
Well I beg to differ. Issues such as education and immigration have a direct impact on our lives as students. Below are a few examples:

  • Post Study Work Visa: In 2012, Theresa May (then Home Secretary) abolished the Post Study Work Visa scheme for International students. This visa would allow you to live in the country for 2 years after graduation. While non-EU international students can still work after their course now, they must have a specific job offer and follow tough rules on the salary criteria.
  • Amber Rudd, the current home secretary, said that the government would consult on changes that would introduce tougher rules for overseas students entering the UK to enrol on “low-quality” courses and would instead prioritise the “best” universities, although the plans appear to have been dropped for the time being, given that the promised consultation is yet to appear.
  • Maintenance Fund: The government also raised the maintenance funds (living expenses) a student needed to have in their bank accounts by 24% in 2015, shutting out some of the internal student population because of the ballooning cost.
  • Staying in the UK: Earlier, to enter or stay in the UK as a skilled worker, non-EU migrants must have a Tier 2 visa. To qualify, you must have been offered a job in the UK and have held at least £945 in your bank account for 90 days.The job you’re offered must pay at least £20,800, although the government is currently considering a recommendation to raise this to £30,000. Certain occupations do not have to meet this threshold. You must also get a certificate of sponsorship from your employer (which involves a fee of between £536 and £1,476), pay £200 per year as a healthcare surcharge and be able to prove your knowledge of the English language. However, in April 2016 this was changed to that only those who earn £35,000 a year will be eligible to apply for “indefinite leave to remain” once they have lived in the UK for five years.

These various changes have affected the desirability of UK as a hub for higher education amongst overseas students. All these policies above are an addition to the fact that International Students already pay a higher tuition fee compared to EU or home students. International students need to understand their worth and contribution to the UK.
According to a study by PwC, international students contribute £2.8bn in fees and consumer spending, supporting nearly 70,000 jobs in London, while the cost of providing them with public services is £540m. Many students also reported that they feel unwelcome to UK and find it difficult to obtain a job after studies. Many of this can be attributed to chancing stricter policies which echo an anti-immigration rhetoric.

So if we contribute significantly to the UK economy and are directly impacted by policies of the government in regards to our access to reasonably priced education and jobs, then we should exercise our right and privilege to vote and have a say in what sort of education policies (along with other policies) we want to see.

So How To Vote?

Its simple. Head over to this link and fill out all the details to register yourself. Don’t have a National Insurance Number? Don’t worry. Many international students are in the same boat. Just select the option that you don’t have a National Insurance Number. Your council will then email you in a day or two to ask for documents (such as a scanned copy of your passport or BRP card) to complete your registration.

Remember, you can also register to vote by post or proxy if you believe you won’t be in the UK during the elections.

But Who Do I Vote For?

You don’t have to base your vote solely based on education or immigration policies. The best way to decide which party you want to vote for is to have a look at their manifestos. In the coming few blogs, I will be posting views by people from different parties on what they have to offer.

A few parties (the major ones) to look at would be:

  • Conservative Party
  • Labour Party
  • Liberal Democrats
  • Scottish National Party
  • Plaid Cymru
  • Green Party

 

So I hope this makes everyone at least consider the importance of making the voice of the international student community heard during the 2017 General Election. In the coming few days, I will post views from different students affiliated with different parties and how they see this election for International students.

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