A group of MPs has called for an end to higher fees imposed on students from Hong Kong, calling them an “impediment to opportunity”.
In a letter published in The Times, the MPs said the British National (Overseas) visa, which allows people from Hong Kong to live and work in the UK, “has been a great success”.
But they added that “higher education rules create an unnecessary impediment to opportunity, since BNO visa holders are not eligible for home fees status until they have lived in the UK for five years”.
The letter says BNO visa holders therefore face much higher fees than their British counterparts, while being ineligible for student loans, and adds that the exceptional status afforded to students from Ukraine should be extended to students from Hong Kong.
Under the current system, students from Hong Kong face paying £22,831 a year more than domestic students for university fees.
The letter has been signed by MPs across the political divide, including Steve Baker, Robert Buckland, Nus Ghani, Damian Green, Paul Blomfield, Rupa Huq and Liam Byrne.
Government data released last week revealed that 113,742 people from Hong Kong had been granted BNO visas for the UK since the scheme opened on January 31 2021.
If the rules were changed, those with BNO visas would pay the same amount as domestic students and those with refugee status – no more than £9,250 per year for current undergraduate courses – whereas at present they must be resident in the UK for five years before they can access loan funding.
Audrey, a sixth former in South Wales who moved to the UK from Hong Kong with her parents under the scheme, said: “Along with dealing with cultural differences and adaptation in moving to and settling in the UK… I have concerns over how our non-eligibility for local university fees and student loans will affect my opportunities in advancing in my education for the future.”
She added that while she appreciated her A-level studies were free, being unable to access university funding made her worry about how her family would support her through higher education.
“I fear how this may have influence over my freedom in choices and options regarding placement and level of study,” Audrey said.
She added that her parents were “working hard and have been paying UK tax” but that she was not eligible for domestic fees, whereas if she could access financial support, her family might be able to fulfil their wishes of settling in the UK and buying a home here.
Sunder Katwala, director of integration think tank British Future, said: “Britain has done the right thing in welcoming new arrivals from Hong Kong. The families arriving are here to stay and want to build new lives and careers in Britain. Like all of us, they want the best for their kids.
“We shouldn’t be penalising young people from Hong Kong with high international fees, which will put university out of reach for many. This is their home now and they should be treated as home students.”
The BNO scheme will be expanded from October 2022 to include adults born after 1997 with at least one BNO parent.