Cameron's mixed message on immigration: who is welcome?


David Cameron in India

David Cameron has been banging the drum for curbs and caps on immigration, but he said in an interview on Indian television yesterday that there was no limit on the number of Indian nationals who can come to study, and no limit on those who can stay afterwards - if they have a job.

So why has he made these comments, and how do they stack up with all his speeches on closing the doors to the UK?


The Conservatives got a great deal of political capital among the party's right wing from tough talk on immigration. In the last few years it has taken a number of steps to demonstrate that not everyone is welcome.

It has capped economic migration for non-EU citizens, introduced an earnings threshold for those who want to stay, and has been working to put off those who want to travel from Romania and Bulgaria.

It has also reformed student visas to control the educational establishments that qualify and the length of time people can stay on those visas.

Last summer there was uproar, as London Metropolitan University was told it was no longer able to recruit Indian students, after investigations found serious shortfalls in English standards, and that more than half of students could not prove they had been showing up to lectures.

International students

However, in among this tough talk and even tougher action, Cameron has made a mistake: he has been putting off international students who might want to attend reputable universities in the UK. These have been cash cows for educational establishments for years, as they have been able to charge these students whatever they like.

Their numbers are dropping dramatically. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the number of Indians studying at British universities fell by a quarter last year, to 30,000.

The BBC has reported that Cameron is to travel to India to try to repair the damage, and to lay the ground for the trip he told an Indian TV station that: "There is no limit on the number of students who can come from India to study at British universities, no limit at all."

"All you need is a basic English qualification and a place at a British university. And what's more, after you've left a British university, if you can get a graduate-level job there is no limit to the amount of people who can stay and work, or the time that they can stay at work."

This assumes, however, that these graduates are earning at least £20,000. If they cannot get a job paying this sum, they will not be allowed to stay. There are those who believe that the fall in the number of Indian students coming to the UK is linked to uncertainty as to whether they will be able to find work that pays well enough after graduation.

Will it work?

According to the Daily Telegraph, Cameron told Indian TV interviewers: "Now we need to take that message out to talented young people in India and say if you want to make that choice, Britain will be incredibly welcoming. Of course we have to control immigration in all its forms, as any country would, but actually Britain's got an amazing offer to make to students."

There are those who might highlight that the Conservatives need to work on building their non-white voter base in the UK, and that this project cannot hurt. All the talk of commonalities during the interview like a passion for cricket, family and hard work, smacked of a determined effort to find some common ground.

There are are others who might highlight that with a Right Wing that's so stridently nationalistic, he might struggle to strike a balance.

But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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