INTERVIEW: Ban on dependants may backfire — UK benefitting from foreign students, says Ola Solomon

 INTERVIEW: Ban on dependants may backfire — UK benefitting from foreign students, says Ola Solomon

Recently, the United Kingdom (UK) announced that from January 2024, foreign students would not be able to bring their families into the country.

The ban, according to the directive, applies majorly to master’s students as those pursuing PhD and other advanced studies are exempted.

The development has continued to elicit reactions in Nigeria for many reasons.

The UK is among the top destinations for students leaving Nigeria to study. Statistics show that Nigeria has the third highest number of students in the UK — 44,195 according to the Higher Education Statistical Agency (HESA) enrollment statistics for 2022.

In this interview with CrispNG, Mr Ola Solomon, a UK-based Nigerian and MSc marketing student at Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland, dissects the politics of the ban, its implications for Nigeria and the UK’s economy as well as the way forward.

CrispNG: What is your take on the UK’s recent action and what do you is the implication for Nigerians?

Ola Solomon: The UK has a way of trying to balance things. The goal of the UK government is that net migration reduces and there are statistics to back this up. Apart from the student route, there’s also the skilled worker route and recently the teacher, but most people come in through the student route that’s why there a huge focus on it.

They are not saying that international students or Nigerians cannot come into the UK rather they are saying that they want to limit it and the ones that will come must be best hands, they are only saying that they wouldn’t accommodate your dependants.

Even in September you are still allowed to bring your dependants as the ban will take effect from January 2024, meaning that as a married man who is coming on a postgraduate programme which is the MSc route, you can not come into the UK with your family, but for a PhD programme which we call post graduate research programme, you can come into the UK with your family.

The reason why they are looking at this is that according to report,  as of December 2022 — 486,000 student visas were issued to Africans as against what they had in 2019, which was just around 269,000, so there is a large influx of people. Now imagine you have 486,000 student visas issued, each of these students have to come into the UK with their dependants you can see the numbers.

Now, people will argue that they are paying fees, of course they are, but the UK isn’t under any obligation to let them come in just because of that, and I want to agree in the aspect of housing, as getting an accommodation in the UK is very difficult, if you end up getting a place to stay, it will cost you a lot.

Personally, I think it’s not a welcome idea to ban dependant visas. If we are looking at the balance, students come into the UK with their dependants and these students and their dependents apart from having the right to work, have no recourse to public funds.

Supposing students are coming to study with no dependants, you tell them not to work for more 20 hours a week, assuming that they are lucky to get a job that pays £15 per hour, how many hours are they going to work in a week?

Assuming they are even lucky to work for 20 hours, they can only make £300 per week and £1200 in a month and they have tuition, rent and other bills to pay and you are telling them that they can’t come in with somebody that would help them. Dependants moreover, aren’t coming for free, they work, get paid and give back to your economy.

Coming into the UK at present would cost nothing less than 12 million naira as a family of five, and then you wonder why you have so much money to pump into their economy and they are asking you not to come with your dependents.

If our leaders had done what they were supposed to do, some of us will not be here, but with each passing day you keep experiencing things that make you go out there to better yourself.

As of today there is no school in the UK that pays less than 10,000 pounds for a one-year course, even the so-called cheap universities, the likes of the Hull University where you pay £8000 – £9000, they have all gone to close to £15,000. Also, all the schools are beginning to increase their deposit.

I know of schools that pay as high as £25,000 for a one year Masters course; studying at the University of Aberdeen cost £25,000, they’ll actually give you 5,000 discount, but 20,000 pounds is not a small money, if you convert it to naira, you’ll be paying 18 million. I saw the other day that one was talking of collecting 100% from Ghanaian students, what does this say? It says, you want to collect from me but you do not actually want me to enjoy the benefits of coming with my family.

There is actually an analysis from the Scottish national newspaper that says that the economic benefits of having foreign students has actually risen from £31 billion in 2019 to about £43 billion in 2022, which is about 34%.

This is to say that most of the things we enjoy in Nigeria, we don’t get it free of charge here, if you have a car you pay road tax, the insurance is killing, and you pay for virtually everything the little things you have for free like your children’s education, by the time you compare the cost and benefits to the UK, the cost for them is about 4.4 billion and the benefits is about 37 billion.

According to the UK government, some claim to be what they are not just to come into the country, but if I have to pay you a huge amount of money, why not? In as much as they need us to grow their economy, we actually need to come and better our lives, but if they are telling us not to come to my family because they believe that it is an abuse of your visa process, then it’s a no.

If you are asking me not to come into the UK being that I will follow the due process, my family comes in to work, we pay taxes, then it is wrong. The UK is simply trying to eat their cake and have it.

According to Sueller Braverman, official statistics soon to be published is expected to show that net migration has increased from 504,000 in the 12 months to June 2022 to more than 700,000 in December of the year.

I read somewhere that the population growth of the Uk from the year 2000 is at 85% and this population growth is largely due to immigration, so, it goes to say that if there was no immigration growth, the UK economy would not have grown to what it is today.

The SNP education spokesperson of Scotland gave an analysis and she said foreign students contribute a lot to their economy, so if they are putting a ban in place, how they want us to survive?

Carolyn Monaghan in her words said that international students provided nearly £43 billion to the UK economy, and I make bold to say that most international students in the UK are Nigerians, Indians and Pakistanis. In her argument she said the students enrich their society, they have skills that have proven vital in the post Brexit climate, and so, should be considered.

Currently, you can not come into the UK without making a deposit commitment to the school you are coming to. I follow Toyyib Adelodun on Twitter and he said that over the last two years about 1.2 million international students have come to study in the UK, he made an analysis saying that assuming each of the students pay £15,000 per year, that’s is about £18 billion being pushed into the British economy.

I am a student who came into UK with my family, my tuition is £18,000, I paid £5,000 as a deposit, I cannot work more than 20 hours which is understood, my dependant has the liberty to work without any restraint, I pay my tax; there is a tax fee could be as high as 40% depending on how much you earn and this money goes back to the economy, I have bills to pay and other needs to meet and you find out that it’s really crazy having your savings because whatever you gain from the economy goes back into the economy.

A friend of mine came into the UK about two months ago and he rented a 2-bedroom apartment for £1500 pounds; not furnished, no bills. I remember when coming, I paid close to 7000 USD immigration health surcharge into the UK economy for myself, my wife and two kids.

You can only claim those funds back if you are fortunate to get a care job and have worked for like 6 months in the healthcare where they’ll likely prorate the funds for you.

Now, how many people are able to get into the care sector and how many of those there have the luxury of working 16 hours? So what happens to their funds? If there is something I’m missing so much in Nigeria, it’s our health sector, here in the UK you can just come into any hospital without a call, my GP is just 3 minutes to my house but I have to place a call, even if one is dying you have to, and you can be on the call for 45 minutes without connecting. It’s difficult but we paid for it, we made advance payment before coming to the UK.

Some do not have the opportunity to see the GP because there is no reason for them to actually go there. If you put together all the funds spent on getting visas, you’ll see that it’s way more than what you are offered. If they deny you visa, they’ll only return the health surcharge but the visa fee cannot be recovered, by the time you put these together sometimes you find it hard to meet up with your monthly expenses, and sometimes you have to borrow as your rent is paid monthly.

SOAS University put up an ad in order to recruit a Yoruba teacher; although there are other countries were the Yoruba language is spoken, but it actually originates from Nigeria. So, if you want to source for teachers for your language center, if you do allow these dependants to come in, how are you going to employ needed hands?

If you want me to do my PhD for three years and you permit me to come with my family, how come somebody that is to actually coming to study for a year or two can’t come with his or her dependants all because you want to cut the net migration figures.

They have made promises to the electorates and the only way they feel they can achieve it is to cut that number. However, I trust Nigerians to always find a way of getting into other countries and I won’t be surprised if other countries start to relax their immigration rules particularly as regards students.

So, at the long run I believe that after they have done this for years, they’ll change course; they did it before as there was a graduate visa route that actually allowed you to apply for a postgraduate work permit for two years, this two years doesn’t count towards your indefinite leave to remain.

Crispng: What is the way forward for Nigeria and Nigerians looking to study in the UK?

Ola Solomon: The way forward is actually to go back to the root, most of us wouldn’t have come into the UK if we were not allowed to come with our dependents; doing a 2 years course, do I want to take the risk of leaving my family behind? For everyone wanting to explore this route, there are opportunities everywhere and If they wouldn’t accept your dependants then you have to look somewhere else, or explore other routes; there are YouTubers who expose you to different routes.

When you begin to compare the likes of Canada to the United Kingdom you begin to wonder why moving to the UK is a big deal. In Canada, within five years after finishing your school you can actually get your permanent residency; in the UK it’s doesn’t work that way.

Even after you have spent your money coming to the UK and you are done with school, you still have to apply, except you want to switch to a skilled worker route; you find that you are now on a journey of having your indefinite leave to remain which might be rejected.

Canada made a good announcement recently, with the increment of dependant visa duration from 12 to 18months; this is to say that there are several options out there. Telling international students who have grown your economy to the tune of 43 billion pounds not to come with their dependants, is as good as saying “I want to collect your money, but I do not want you to come with your family; I want to collect you money but I I want to limit what you can actually do”.

Also, we need to sell our products well and that product is Nigeria. Even if you are able to get your residency or citizenship, they actually classify you as a second-class citizen, we have seen it play out with footballers and the likes and whether we like it or not Nigeria is our home.

In essence, if you study abroad and you have the opportunity to defend your country please do, like what just happened when someone had the opportunity to sell his country and he messed it up, I don’t know what would have happened if I or another person was in that situation, so whenever you have the opportunity to talk good about your country ensure to make good use of it. This is not to say that there are no negative sides, but let the good part be at the forefront.

The change starts with you and me. If you have the opportunity to change one thing in Nigeria, what would that be, if you have the opportunity to turn things around what would you do? I’ve been in positions to help people and I’ve never turned down offers to do so, as I see it as my own way of contributing to my country. My aim is to make an impact both in UK and Nigeria.

I’ve seen Nigerians who don’t behave like Nigerians, but we should be proud of our country. I use my Nigerian line more than my UK line, but most people wouldn’t want to associate with you because they are in the UK. I know of a friend who wants to relocate to Nigeria from the UK as she has a there business and some people (including Nigerians in the UK) still think that people in Nigeria are not making it.

Upon coming to the UK, I have learnt that Nigerians and Nigeria is not as back as we think it is. I have seen where Nigerians have gone the extra mile to assist each other, they take themselves as one, if this was replicated back home we wouldn’t be in the situation that we find ourselves in now.

We’ve got Nigerian communities in UK, different association of Nigerians in Scotland, we’ve got several WhatsApp groups having Nigerian students and these people look out for each other.

I’ve also noticed a negative trend among us where some Nigerians feel like the UK is a safe haven, well, it is for now. However, the way we treat ourselves sometimes is actually not good.

Again, we need the right people in the right places. I read the other day that the education minister, Adamu Adamu said he knew nothing about education when he was appointed as the education minister, where does that come from?

How do you want to create policies that will bring about positive effects in the education sector when you don’t have knowledge about the system? You see people who do not have any business being in a particular position being put there.

If you look at the immigration part, I wouldn’t say that a Nigerian shouldn’t travel abroad for studies, because if you look at what we have and what we stand to gain abroad, its a whole lot educationally.

You see someone who studied abroad and was diligent to gain knowledge, despite the fact that they are exposed to a new system and you want him or her to go back to his/her country to effect that change, but you see that the situation of the country isn’t conducive to effect this change.

A lot of people after coming back try to effect this change but they do not have access to the things they need. Even as a banker in Nigeria before moving to the UK, I couldn’t have access to a credit card, which is as a result of people being in positions they are not meant to be in.

Nigeria is not that bad, we’ve got a huge deposit of talents in the country. Let’s go back to the drawing table and vote the right kind of people into government. Just like the case of Abia state’s returning officer for the 2023 governorship election, Professor Nnenna Oti, if we find ourselves where we have to speak the truth let’s not fail in doing that.

We also need better foreign policies. In 2021 when I was paying for my tuition, it took me just 2 days to pay using the CBN platform, but now it’s takes you longer, even up to five months, and this is actually pulled back into the UK economy.

Presently, most banks do not have the funds to treat their form A transaction for students, they refer you to the black market and £1 as of today is 999 naira.

Our educational system is a total overhaul. Coming as a UK student, I know how much you are going to pay to the UK government. After paying your £4000 deposit, they give you your confirmation of acceptance, you apply and pay for your visa; £450, you pay your health surcharge, you just have to pay.

If you are doing a 2 years course you pay £1800, after you have paid all that you still have your tuition balance to pay, assuming you don’t know anyone in country you have to book an Airbnb or a hotel, for 2 weeks you pay up to £600 to £700 depending on when you are coming, if you are not able to get an apartment before then, you probably want to renew and if you are not renewing they throw you away, if you want to get a bus ticket you pay; you pay virtually for everything, you cannot have access to council houses because they are public funds, where I stay If you are paying for a 2 bedroom house it could amount to £1000, you are paying for council houses it’s probably £250 – £350.

If where I’m coming from the government has actually done the right thing, we should be seeing people coming to Nigeria to study, I wouldn’t be leaving my country to study abroad, if you check the ratio you can say only 1 in 100 come into the country to study, while the rest go out of Nigeria to study.

There are African countries that have better education system than we do, but that is not to say that we don’t have the resources, we have the resources as well as capable hands. In my class you see Nigerians made head ways all over the country.

In March, elections were conducted in all the tertiary institutions in UK, in my school, four elected officials to four posts were all Nigerians, in another school in Scotland, all five posts were filled by Nigerians and this tells us a lot.

I’ve never seen a budget where education was placed as a top priority and it is an issue of great concern. Nonetheless, we are now seeing situations where youths are standing up to take back the country which is a welcome development and hopefully would bring about a change in the system.

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