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Student Visas

Volume 502: debated on Monday 14 December 2009

6. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the system for processing student visa applications. (306220)

Order. It might help if I point out that the grouping was of questions 5 and 6, but as I have just indicated, question 5 no longer applies.

The implementation of tier 4 of the points-based system took place on 31 March 2009, replacing the previous arrangements for overseas students to come to study in the UK. This ensures that only those colleges and schools which provide quality education and take responsibility for their students are licensed to bring in international students. We continuously monitor the systems, and where improvements can be made we will make them. The Prime Minister recently announced a review of certain elements of tier 4.

I thank the Minister for that response. Last month the Prime Minister gave his first speech on immigration for some 18 months. Having ignored the warnings about loopholes in the immigration and the visa systems for so long, why is he now rushing to implement a policy that will hurt legitimate language schools?

That is slightly unfair. The introduction of tier 4 was in part to clamp down on the area about which I know the hon. Gentleman had been concerned—the so-called bogus colleges. We estimate that about 2,000 of those shut down or ceased that part of their operations. In a cat and mouse game, in which we are dealing with attempts at illegal immigration, continuous review is sensible. On the language point, I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider my letter to hon. Members which emphasises that we have issued a consultation to look at what can be done, not a set of definitive proposals, as he seems to fear.

I hope the Minister will not take any lessons from the Opposition, given their general approach to foreigners and immigrants to this country. It must be a good thing if foreigners come to Britain and then speak English with an English accent, not an American accent or some other sub-English accent. Our universities need foreign students, both for economic reasons and for Britain to have a spread in the world as those students go back to their own countries as graduates. I ask my right hon. Friend to err on the side of British universities in this sensitive case, rather than respond to the xenophobic fetishes of the Opposition.

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. The value to the United Kingdom of overseas students is very great indeed in cultural and economic terms. It is a question of getting the balance right. We have evidence of abuse under the old system and under the new system, but we are confident because the number of students coming to this country from overseas has increased and we have better controls over those visas.

The Minister will recall my championing last summer of the cause of two Patagonian women who wanted to come to Wales to brush up on their Welsh language skills. Both were turned down, but one came in on appeal. It emerged that these matters involve a 40-hour round trip from Patagonia to Buenos Aires and five weeks’ wait—and the whole thing then being processed from New York. Is it not possible to introduce a simpler and more sensitive means of dealing with such cases?

Only if the hon. Gentleman can guarantee me that in the case of somebody who gets a student visa but turns out not to be a student and abuses the system and overstays, he will not raise complaints. The two cases in question, which I personally looked at, were not compliant with the immigration rules, and no Government can ignore that fact.

The Minister will have seen the press reports at the weekend indicating that the student suspects in the Manchester terror investigation earlier this year had been cleared to work in the security industry. Does the Security Industry Authority carry out the same detailed background checks on all overseas applicants for work in the security industry as it does on all British applicants?

The hon. Gentleman returns to his theme of the security industry and immigration. I hope he will support the Government in our new procedures both for security industry regulation, which we introduced, and for tougher visa controls. The answer to his question is yes.

So the answer is yes. Will the Minister therefore confirm that the application form guidance notes for foreigners expressly state that they do not need to submit an application that has been countersigned by a reputable British referee—in contrast with the requirements for a British applicant?

The hon. Gentleman is trying to present a case that is simply not borne out by the facts. The fact is that there are immigration rules, and I again ask him to support our new border controls, because on that he continues to try to have his cake and eat it. Those are the ways in which we check the validity of people’s working rights in this country.