Government Ends University Visa Scam
The government has announced that foreign post-graduate students on non-research courses will no longer be able to bring family members to the UK. Regardless of your views on whether politically this is good or bad news - locally it will take a lot of pain, administrative workload and unnecessary hassle away from landlords and will reduce the pressure on local accommodation.
What Have We Seen?
Universities seem to have hit on a new and lucrative business model. Whereas they can get around £9,000 per year from a UK student, they can charge double that or more for students from abroad. And those on post-graduate courses appear happy to pay more as until now, it has been a comparatively cheap and sure way to emigrate to the UK.
We know that the University took on around 1,000 international students on Masters courses in January 2023. The vast majority appear to have come from Nigeria and India and most, have come with partners and many with children.
Housing them has been a challenge. We have heard from various sources of camp beds in the University library overnight for those yet to find accommodation and of plans for the 'soon to be demolished' derelict student accommodation at Langstone campus in Milton to be spruced up to be used as a 'refugee student' camp from this September. The Uni has not confirmed either report.
The issue for us as landlords is two-fold. Firstly, most of these students do not understand UK housing norms or processes and will take a single room in a shared house and then get very upset when they move the rest of the family in and are told this is not acceptable. Suddenly the landlord is on his own - we have consistently asked PCC for support in explaining tenant rights and expectations in this area and all we get is the threat of prosecution of the landlord for overcrowding.
Prior to this, there is the massive overhead of administration. We have numerous examples of foreign 'agents' trying to find property for yet to arrive students (breaking all of the UK laws designed to protect tenants from poor agents or inappropriate fees), of a potential tenant asking for a room for 4 or 5 and then, after having the 'rules' explained, coming back asking for a room for one (even though we all know the story is modified to get through the process and the problem of overcrowding is going to come regardless of assurances to the contrary). And this is all apart from the nightmare that relates to finding a guarantor.
Our advice to members is that whenever a prospective tenant provides a guarantor, you talk to that person and make sure they fully understand what they are guaranteeing - we have heard so many tales of international post grad students whose 2nd cousins aunt (or similar) agrees to be a guarantor when, in reality, what they have agreed to is providing a reference that young Jimmy/Jenny is a nice boy/girl and the concept of being on the hook for unpaid rent is way beyond their understanding and their means.
And for the general public, this is not about whether local landlords experience hassle or not - in the Portsmouth example, 1,000 families arriving in and housed in the city in January, mostly taking the cheapest accommodation possible - puts huge pressure on the local housing market, mops up any spare capacity which pushes rents up across the board and squeezes those who most need it out of the Portsmouth housing market as the supply of affordable housing disappears. It is no surprise that the 'super-HMO' developers are seeing demand for their properties going through the roof (or should I say 'super-HMO' developers are going up into the roof to meet demand... 🙂)
Universities claim that the economic impact of international students is a boost to the economy of £41.9Bn in the UK, but we would love to see the other side of that business case - the impact on the local housing market, the increased costs resulting from the supply constraints, etc. If Uni's were taxed like landlords and the funds made available to local councils (as is the case with council tax for example) there might be some balance but at present this is far from a win-win relationship between Universities and their home city's.
The headline referred to a scam whereas what has been described so far is University's coming up with business models which work for them but may be detrimental for the local economy - sadly, that is the downside of a market economy but it is not a scam.
The scam is this:
- Nigel is a well-educated Nigerian with a working wife and 2 small children who wishes he had a better quality of life and prospects than he has at home in Nigeria
- He sees a local YouTube influencer talking about how to get into the UK permanently
- Based on this, he pays a local agent to help him get a place on a post-grad university course in the UK, to sort visas for himself and his family and to help find somewhere to live when they all arrive
- Nigel arrives in the UK and starts his course and to supplement his income, he or his wife take jobs in the care sector
- After several months, the care sector employer is asked to sponsor a 'Health and Care Worker Visa' which, once approved, is all they need to allow them to stay, so Nigel drops out of his University course.