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Student Visas

Volume 524: debated on Monday 7 March 2011

This morning, I met a young Chevening scholar from Iraq who is studying for an MSc in engineering and robotics at Sussex university. He is hoping to go back to his country to make a contribution when he has completed his degree course. Will my hon. Friend confirm that we want as many overseas students like that young man as possible to come to the UK, because they enrich our university life and take the skills and knowledge that they acquire back to their home countries when they complete their courses? Will he confirm that while seeking to achieve that, we also want to bear down on the abuses of sham institutions that have been set up to bring about immigration abuses?

I think the hon. Gentleman is gearing up for an Adjournment debate on this subject. I do not know why he gave such a full question, but it was very helpful and we are grateful to him.

As ever, I agree completely about the helpfulness of my hon. Friend’s question. He presents the House with an extremely good example of what should happen, in that a foreign student came here to learn on a high-quality course and to develop skills that he can take back to his country. As is crucial, he is planning to leave at the end of his course. That is precisely the sort of thing that benefits our university system and brings confidence in the immigration system. What does not do that is students coming here and simply staying. Published information shows that of the students who came here in 2004, more than 20% were still here five years later in 2009. That is the kind of thing that we must investigate, to establish whether those people are still genuine students or are just exploiting the system to work in this country.

Last week, the Minister for Universities and Science told the Home Affairs Committee that he wanted foreign students to come to this country, but admitted that he found Government policy in the area “fuzzy”. The Select Committee was told on the same day by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne), that he wanted a cut in immigration but an increase in the number of students coming from Latin America. What exactly is the Government’s policy on the future of the student visa entry system?

Under the student visa scheme, we want good students to come here to study genuine courses at genuine institutions. Under the previous Government, of whom the hon. Gentleman was such a distinguished supporter for so long, the student visa system became the single biggest loophole in an already chaotic immigration system. That is why we are having to deal with it. It is significantly the biggest route of immigration into this country—about 60% of visas are issued for students. That is why it is so important that this Government get a grip on the failures of the previous Government.