As the government restricts visas for family members of some foreign students, a YouTuber is under fire of Twitter for giving an interview to the BBC in which he said some Nigerians studying are not looking for new qualifications, but to start a new life abroad.
Recording from his home in a Birmingham suburb, Emdee Tiamiyu promotes himself to thousands of subscribers as YouTube’s number one guide to “scholarships, fellowships and japa-ships”.
That last word, japa, is the Yoruba term for “to leave”, he explains. It is a buzzword among Nigerians eager to escape their country’s problems with corruption and poor governance.
“People are looking for alternatives,” he says. “They want to escape Nigeria.”
Mr Tiamiyu offers advice on navigating immigration systems like the UK’s and says for most people the only legal and broadly accessible route is through the education system.
“The student route is more like an answered prayer,” he says. It is a “big bracket that’s able to take a lot of people, the ordinary people”.
A fifth of UK student visas last year went to Nigerians – 120,000 in total, with half for the students themselves and half for partners and children. Nigerians had more family visas for foreign students than any other nationality.
Now, ahead of migration figures on Thursday expected to show that a record 700,000 people came to the UK last year, the government is banning people taking some post-graduate courses – such as master’s degrees – from getting visas for their spouses and children.
Mr Tiamiyu says he can understand why the government might want to take action.
Increasingly people are signing up to courses – and willingly paying fees of £22,000 a year on average to UK educational institutions – just to get a visa for themselves and their dependants, the YouTuber says.
“We’re beginning to see that a lot of people just hide behind the studentship. So the student thing is not real, it’s not like they need the degrees,” he says.
Most people genuinely intend to study but the minority who do not is growing, Mr Tiamiyu suggests.
While visas can be cut short if foreign students’ attendance and work is not good enough, Mr Tiamiyu says there are still students who are “really not worried about the details of the education”.
Instead the course can be a stepping stone to a new life in the UK, allowing them to stay on afterwards for a further two or three years on a graduate visa – or longer on a skilled worker visa if they can get the right job.
During their course, foreign students in the UK are limited to working 20 hours a week in term time, so it’s hard to make much money on a student visa. Mr Tiamiyu says the family visas can make it more economically viable, as a spouse travelling with the student can work full-time.
Not all of the marriages are genuine, he says. In a few cases, “people would just team up somewhere in Lagos” before they travel.
But however they enter the country, Mr Tiamiyu says a tough job market means Nigerian students must have real skills and experience to stay in the UK – a long-term visa will ultimately depend on making a genuine contribution.
In the Shropshire town of Telford, there are now around 300 Nigerian residents, many drawn by the University of Wolverhampton campus.
For some of them – such as Rotimi Lawal, studying a master’s in mechanical engineering at a cost of £15,000 – the appeal of a UK education is inseparable from the opportunities in its economy.