YOU never cross the same river twice, okay?
The second time you cross the same river, you would have been older. The river on the other hand may be deeper, shallower, wider or on the verge of drying.
When Cynthia Barker crossed the UK migration river in the mid-80’s, the UK was – in the words of the UK Guardian newspaper – “glossier, (experiencing a) more expansive middle and later years;” Margaret Thatcher was Europe’s Iron Lady; Boy George, Duran Duran and Princess Diana were the country’s icons.
Cynthia’s mom was one of the Overseas Filipino Workers who left the country during martial law as the Marcos government continued its deployment of skilled workers and professionals to ease the unemployment problem back home. The POEA was two years old in 1982, replacing its precursor the Overseas Employment and Development Board (OEDB) then headed by Salvador Bigay.
This year, Cynthia Barker became the first-ever Filipino elected councilor in the last national elections in the UK.
Cynthia and her business partner Charles Kelly – both registered immigration advisers in the UK – surveyed the UK education and employment sectors (both here and in the UK) and decided to put up and registered an educational institution authorized by the Home Office to act as sponsors accepting foreign students to take up National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) courses, with particular focus on healthcare courses.
NVQ’s allure was the ability of foreign students to work while studying since work is part of the course. The “student-friendly” route became subject to abuse when the Home Office set up the Tier-based migration in 2009. Students intending to study and work in the UK were classified under Tier 4.
The National Audit Office reported that by starting the Tier 4 category without checks and monitoring in place, an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 individuals were able to enter the UK as NVQ students. Instead of going to school, however, these NVQ students went to work then overstayed their visas.
Rewind to the ‘80s.
Despite the gloss, there were more individuals – 232,000 citizens, residents settled in the UK – moving out of the UK, than there were immigrating to the UK – 153,000. Immigrants from the Philippines, like Cynthia – did not even register as a blip in the country’s immigration radar.
The three countries with the biggest number of immigrants came from Australia, the United States and Iceland. Emigrants mostly moved to Canada, South Africa and Australia.
Five years after its creation, UK’s Tier-based migration was revamped especially when the European Union economy tanked.
The Home Office decided to put up a dam to stop the flow of the migration river, targeting international students as a specific migrant sector that needs to be drastically reduced, if not removed outright.
The key goal of the UK government policy was to reduce net migration from the “hundreds of thousands” to just “tens of thousands” before the end of the 2014 parliament.
In June of 2014, instead of being reduced, official figures show a net migration figure of 260,000, which was 160,000 above the government’s target. The Home Office blamed migration from poorer EU nations.
On July 13, 2015, the government changed immigration rules for international students aimed not only at reducing the number of student migrants but also to ensure that they leave the UK after completing their studies.
Still the net-migration dam failed.
At the time of writing (August 28), BBC reported that UK net migration is at “an all-time high, reaching 330,000 in March of 2015, three times higher than the government’s target. Foreign students – mainly from India and China – posted the highest number of immigrants.”
The changes of July 2013 include:
•Preventing new students at publicly funded colleges from working, bringing them in line with those at private colleges (from August)
•Restricting students’ ability to enroll in new courses unless there is a clear career pathway
•Ban college students from extending their Tier 4 visas in the UK unless they are studying at an ‘embedded college,’ one which has a formal, direct link to a university that is recognized by the Home Office. This will require them to leave and apply for a new visa from outside the UK if they wish to study another course (from November)
•Deny the ability of college students to switch to work visas requiring them to apply from outside the UK (from November)
• Restrict work rights of dependents of students.
What has not changed is the policy that to be eligible for permanent residency or settlement, a student must be able to switch to a work visa and work for five years to qualify for indefinite leave to remain status.
The commonwealth nations – Australia, Canada and New Zealand – offer better alternatives, and less expensive for a student to work to residency routes.
A Filipino student, professional or skilled workers can take up a one-year post-secondary diploma course, work 20 hours a week and be eligible for permanent residency immediately with a job offer instead of working for five years before being eligible for settlement.
In addition, students taking up studies outside the main cities get bonus points towards their migration application.
Rummaging through what is left of UK visas does not look bright. Even Filipino spouses or partners of UK citizens or those permanently settled must provide evidence that the UK sponsor has at least £18,600 in income/savings. Otherwise, they can live together – but in the Philippines.
Today, while there is a substantial number of Filipinos whose parents are OFWs, not too many would be able to do a Cynthia Barker.
Unless they do their homework before crossing that river.