Britain's new immigration rules will hit international arts graduates hard

Jingan Young says it's wrong to define the UK's international community simply by how much they earn

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 June, 2015, 2:37pm
UPDATED : Monday, 29 June, 2015, 5:09pm

British Home Secretary Theresa May has announced that from next April, non-European-Union migrants who have lived and worked in Britain for at least five years must earn at least £35,000 (HK$427,000) per year (and the figure will rise every year after that) or face deportation.

Aside from the devastating effect this will have on the non-EU nurses working for the National Health Service, a more troubling question arises: Will Britain become a country that defines its international community simply in monetary terms?

The new rules infer that money and status have officially become the No1 rationale that defines a non-EU resident's status - not how long they have lived there or how much they have contributed towards British culture and society.

For the 2015-16 academic year, tuition fees for international students studying for an undergraduate degree at Oxford University will range from £14,845 to £21,855 per year; for King's College London, it averages around £15,600. This puts things into perspective. The annual salary for an entry-level position in Britain is around £19,000. So, what hope is there for any graduate, let alone one from abroad, who is not in the financial sector to find well-paid employment in the UK?

After paying exorbitant tuition fees, where will it leave international graduates who wish to contribute to and were brought up largely in British culture? Today, net migration to Britain from non-EU countries stands at 250,000. The government proposes to lower that figure to below 100,000 by the end of this year to, among other things, "exercise control to ensure that only the brightest and best remain permanently", May said. But how do we define "brightest and best"?

Gerard Batten, a British member of the European Parliament, is right when he calls this a form of "posturing". The government has little control over EU immigration. So, is this its only way to reduce "net migration", never mind the effect on thousands of immigrants, particularly those in the arts?

It will also affect places such as Hong Kong, with its long tradition of sending its "best and brightest" abroad to not only represent the city, but also to cultivate their talent and make their mark.

If one of Britain's aims is to reduce the number of overseas applications for university places, ministers have sent a loud and clear message. This decision will undoubtedly have repercussions for many international students considering a career in the arts in Britain compared with the much more lucrative financial sector. How will this affect the art produced in the country?

As the British Foreign Office said about the recent Legislative Council political reform veto, the news is, in short, "disappointing".

Jingan Young is a freelance writer and playwright