Skip to main content

Overseas Students (Visas)

Volume 495: debated on Monday 6 July 2009

6. What recent representations he has received on the system for issuing visas to students from overseas countries. (283789)

Since the implementation of tier 4 of the points-based system on 31 March 2009, Ministers have received a number of representations on the system for issuing visas to students from overseas countries.

One of your own Ministers has described student visas as a major loophole in Britain’s border control. What winds people up in towns such as Gravesend and Northfleet and across the country is the perception and the reality that you have mismanaged and not controlled—

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows the correct parliamentary language, and I am sure he will now use it.

The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government introduced the points-based system for the very reasons that he mentioned—to ensure that it is simple, transparent and robust, and that it does the job. Through student visa applications, it monitors who is coming in and it is making a difference by tightening up the loophole to which the hon. Gentleman referred. That is why we are doing it.

One of the key concerns surrounding student visas is ensuring that appropriate checks against fraud are made. The Minister for Borders and Immigration has suggested that for visa applications from Pakistan and Afghanistan, officers based in Islamabad have more than 11 minutes to carry out initial fraud and forgery checks. Can the Minister tell the House precisely how much more?

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary informs me that the hon. Gentleman’s figures are wrong, and that that is not the situation. We have more than 200 individuals dealing with visa applications in Islamabad, and that is important. My hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration would be present today, were he not in Calais announcing £15 million worth of new technology to stop people coming into the country via Calais. We will look at those issues, but I advise the hon. Gentleman that his perception is not our perception on the matter.

The Minister will be aware that because of the system, a significant number of foreign students, particularly from countries such as the United States, have thrown in the towel in their attempts to come and join courses at UK universities. A number of public universities in the UK will be in financial difficulty because their students will not be turning up from overseas in September, and the future looks exceedingly bleak. Will he please look into the matter and, for once, co-ordinate with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills?

Again, from our perspective the points system is meant to be simple, transparent, objective and robust. There is an online calculator where people can examine this. A phased introduction of the scheme is taking place. We have had a number of applications to date and the number of failures has been very small. I will certainly consider the points that the hon. Lady raises and pass them on to my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration, but the purpose of the system is to make sure that we know who is coming in, that it is secure and that it provides robust and transparent operations.