• EDITOR'S NOTE (Aug. 11, 2015): A previous version of this story reported that approximately 6,000 Canadian students enrolled at higher education institutions (HEI) in Britain would be affected by new immigration changes. That is not in fact the case. The changes mostly affect international students enrolled in further education institutions (FEI) in the U.K., of which there are about 20,000 students.

Amendments to international student visas in Britain will likely not affect the majority of Canadians studying in the U.K. – for now.

British Home Secretary Theresa May has announced a wave of changes to the United Kingdom's immigration rules, and more are expected in the coming months.

The aim is to curb what the government calls an increase in visa fraud by students who arrive on a study permit and enter the job market instead, thereby bypassing the strict requirements needed to obtain a legal work visa.

It's the latest in a series of crackdowns by Prime Minister David Cameron's government, which has promised to reduce annual net migration to Great Britain from "hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands."

The U.K. is one of the most popular places for Canadians to study abroad, second only to the U.S. For the 2013-14 academic year, there were more than 6,000 Canadian students enrolled at higher education institutions (HEI), in Britain. 

The immigration criteria for those students who wish to stay and work are not being affected – as yet. The current changes only affect international students enrolled in further education institutions (FEI), of which there are about 20,000 students, some of which are thought to be Canadian.

$100,000 student loan

Under the new policy, international students studying at public (or community) colleges will be prohibited from working while studying and forced to leave the country before applying for an extended study visa.

Kimberley Hirschy

Canadian Kimberley Hirschy, who is studying law at London's City University, has been paying $26,000 a year in tuition alone, $8,000 more than her U.K. and EU peers. This does not include the cost of living and additional school fees. To cover her two years of study, Hirschy has a $100,000 student loan. (Natalie Walters/CBC)

Prior to these changes, college students were allowed to work up to 10 hours a week and could remain in Britain while applying for further study.

"The opportunity to work in the field where you're studying is very valuable," says John Mountford, international director for the British Association of Colleges. "So for certain students, it could be quite a big deterrent for coming to the U.K."

For many students, part-time work also helps offset the steep cost of education. Tuition for international students can often be twice as much as for those who live there.

For example, Canadian Kimberley Hirschy, who is studying law at London's City University, has been paying $26,000 a year in tuition alone, $8,000 more than her U.K. and EU peers. This does not include the cost of living and additional school fees. To cover her two years of study, Hirschy has a $100,000 student loan.

The new rules are hitting British colleges the hardest, but universities have not gone untouched.

The government recently eliminated the concept of "established presence," a classification that allowed students to extend their study visa provided they had enough money in their bank account to cover two months of school and any necessary living expenses.

Sending a clear message

Students will now need to have up to nine months of savings in order to qualify for a visa extension, which could be another financial barrier for international students.

Dominic Scott

"Better start saving soon," Dominic Scott, chief executive of the U.K. Council for International Student Affairs, warns international students. (Natalie Walters/CBC)

"Better start saving soon," Dominic Scott, chief executive of the U.K. Council for International Student Affairs, warns international students.

For example, a PhD student who has to extend their stay for a year might have to have about £12,000, or about $24,000, in the bank to make the application, says Scott.

"We hope the message gets out loud and clear, so they better start saving soon," he warns.

Scott says many people see this is as "yet another assault on the whole concept that people can come to the U.K. at various levels of study and progress through the system."

These latest changes also make it clear that students are not exempt from Britain's tough stance on immigration, says Mostafa Rajaai, international student officer for the National Union of Students.

The new rules "not only make it impossible for many to come and study in the U.K., it also sends a clear message to prospective students that they are not wanted here," says Rajaai.

International students spent $7.8 billion on tuition alone for the 2013-2014 academic year, but there is more in it for Britain than just money, says Scott.

"[University] departments are kept open by large numbers of bright, able, talented international students and if we keep those departments open, then British students can go to them, too," says Scott.

"So it actually feeds and benefits the whole education sector."

More changes likely

In order for the British government to reach its promise of reducing net migration, more crackdowns are expected in the coming months. One will directly impact students looking to obtain a work visa after graduation.

The government's Migration Advisory Committee has been looking into raising the salary requirement for Tier 2 visas from "graduate new entrant" level to an average salary, a potential increase of 25 per cent, according to Scott.

The results are expected to be released in the fall. If the salary quota is increased, it will be virtually impossible for graduate students to find jobs that meet the salary requirement necessary to obtain a work visa.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story reported that international students spent $7.8 million in the U.K. on tuition alone for the 2013-2014 academic year. In fact, it was $7.8 billion.
    Aug 11, 2015 3:29 PM ET