Skip to main content

Student Visas

Volume 525: debated on Tuesday 22 March 2011

The UK has a worldwide reputation for providing quality education to overseas students, and Britain is rightly the destination of choice for many people wishing to study abroad, but under the previous Government the student visa system became the symbol of a broken and abused immigration system. Labour claimed that it had capped unskilled immigration at zero, but it was happy just to sit back and watch as unskilled migrants abused the student route to come here. We had too many people coming here to work and not to study, we had too many foreign graduates staying on in the UK to work in unskilled jobs, and we had too many institutions selling immigration, not education.

We want to attract only the best and the brightest to Britain. We want high-quality international students to come here, we want them to study at genuine institutions whose primary purpose is providing a first-class education, and we want the best of them—and only the best of them—to stay on and work here after their studies are complete. That is exactly what we are doing across all the immigration routes: tightening up the system, tackling the abuse and supporting only the most economically beneficial migrants.

I have already announced and begun to implement our plans to limit economic migration—cutting the numbers by more than one fifth compared with last year. I will return to the House later this year with a consultation that will set out proposals to break the link between temporary migration and permanent settlement. I also intend to consult on changes to the family migration route. I will be bringing forward proposals to tackle sham marriages and other abuse, promote integration and reduce the burdens on the British taxpayer. We aim to reduce net migration from the hundreds of thousands back down to the tens of thousands.

The most significant migrant route to Britain is the student route, and we must take action there, too. Immigration by students has more than trebled in the past 10 years, and it is now far larger than immigration through the work or family routes. It is unsurprising that more and more overseas students are attracted by our world-renowned higher education institutions, but there has also been an increase in abuse in the private further education sector.

Students now make up the majority of non-EU migrants: including their dependants, they accounted for about two thirds of the visas issued last year under the points-based system. When Labour introduced the current system in 2009, almost a third more student visas were issued that year than the year before—an increase from 230,000 to 300,000. Numbers were so high that the UK Border Agency had to suspend student applications in some parts of the world because it could not cope with the demand, and much of that demand was simply not genuine. We have so-called students turning up at Heathrow airport who cannot answer basic questions in English or even describe what their course is about. One institution has an intake of 90% international students and asks only for GCSE-level qualifications to do a supposedly degree level course. Another college’s own sales agent actually helped a student to cheat in their entry exam. Legitimate colleges should still be able to recruit legitimate overseas students, but we need to stop the abuse and return some common sense to our student visa system.

The current system is based on a sponsorship regime that trusts educational institutions to assess the quality and ability of students, and puts the responsibility on the institution to ensure that the student is in fact studying and obeying the immigration rules. That trust has been well placed in some sectors: universities, independent schools and publicly funded further education colleges mostly take their sponsorship duties seriously and act responsibly. But some, particularly in the private FE sector and parts of the English language college sector, are not exercising the due diligence we expect. Those institutions make up the largest single group on the sponsor register. The sector is essentially unregulated; those institutions are not subject to a statutory system of education inspection and can offer any type of course they like. Although some of them are legitimate, for many their product is not an education, but immigration, together with the ability to work here.

It is absolutely clear that the current regime has failed to control immigration and failed to protect real students from poor-quality colleges. That is why the proposals I am announcing today are unashamedly targeted at the least trustworthy institutions. Our proposals protect the interests of our world-class universities, protect our leading independent schools and public FE colleges and, ultimately, are in the best interests of legitimate students.

In future, all sponsors will need to have been vetted by one of the approved inspectorates—Ofsted and its devolved equivalents, the Quality Assurance Agency or the relevant independent schools inspectorate—and all must become highly trusted sponsors. Once they achieve that status, private colleges offering quality, bona fide training programmes of genuine educational value will be able to continue to recruit legitimate international students. All current sponsors who do not meet the requirements will be allowed to stay on the register for a short period from April 2011. During that time they will be limited in the number of students they may sponsor. They will first have to apply for highly trusted sponsor status and accreditation. They will then be required to achieve highly trusted sponsor status no later than April 2012, and accreditation by the relevant agency by the end of 2012.

As well as cracking down on bogus colleges, we will crack down on bogus students. Students who want to come here should be able to speak English, to support themselves financially without taking paid employment, and to show that they are coming for study, not for work. So we will toughen up the entry requirements. First, we will strengthen the evidence that students need to demonstrate that they have the financial means to fend for themselves. Secondly, we will streamline the requirements for students from low-risk countries and prioritise resources on high-risk students. Thirdly, we will toughen up the rules on English language competence. Those coming to study at degree level will have to speak English at upper intermediate level; others will have to speak English at intermediate level. UKBA officers will be given the discretion to refuse entry to students who cannot speak English without an interpreter and who do not meet the required minimum standards. Let me be clear: you need to speak English to learn at our education establishments; if you can’t, we won’t give you a visa.

If someone is coming to the UK as a student, study should be their main purpose, not work. So we will end permission to work during term time for all students other than those at university and publicly funded FE colleges. Students at public sector FE colleges will be allowed to work for 10 hours per week in term time, and students at university for 20 hours per week. We will reduce the amount of work that can be done on work placement courses for non-university students from 50:50, as now, to two thirds study, one third work. At present, students on courses of six months or more can bring their dependants with them. In 2010, over 31,000 student dependants came here. We will remove this right for all but postgraduate students at universities and Government-sponsored students.

Coming to the UK to study for a course should, by definition, be a temporary step, so we will limit the amount of time that students can spend in the UK. Too many students who originally came here for short courses have been staying for years and years by changing courses, often without showing any tangible academic progress. We will limit the overall time that can be spent on a student visa to three years at lower levels, as now, and to five years at higher levels. There will be exceptions for longer courses such as medicine and veterinary science, and for PhD study, but no longer will students be able to stay here and switch from course to course to course.

We want the best international graduates to stay and contribute to the UK economy. However, the arrangements that we have been left with for students who graduate in the UK are far too generous. They are able to stay for two years, whether or not they find a job and regardless of the skill level of that job. In 2010, when one in 10 UK graduates were unemployed, 39,000 non-EU students with 8,000 dependants took advantage of that generosity.

We will therefore close the current post-study work route from April next year. In future, only graduates who have an offer of a skilled graduate-level job from an employer licensed by the UK Border Agency will be allowed to stay. Post-study migrants must be paid at least £20,000 or the appropriate rate for the occupation, as set out in the relevant code of practice, whichever is higher. That will prevent employers from recruiting migrants into skilled occupations but paying them less than the going rate. We estimate that had this measure been applied last year, it would have halved the numbers staying in the UK through this route. We will not impose a limit on that group next year, but we will keep the position under review. If the number of foreign students entering the labour market as post-study workers increases significantly and unexpectedly, we will ask the Migration Advisory Committee to look at how abuses can best be addressed. That would potentially include the introduction of a separate temporary limit on post-study workers.

As we restrict the post-study work route, we will ensure that innovative student entrepreneurs who are creating wealth can stay in the UK to pursue their ideas. The message to the brightest and the best students around the globe is clear: Britain’s world-class universities remain open for business.

We recognise the need to implement these changes in a staged manner that minimises disruption to education providers and students. We will therefore implement the measures in three stages, starting with new rules, which will be laid by the end of this month. I will publish the full details shortly.

The package of measures that I have outlined today is expected to reduce the number of student visas by between 70,000 and 80,000—a reduction of more than 25%—and it will increase the outflow of foreign students after they have concluded their studies. There will be a proper system of accreditation to root out bogus colleges; tough new rules on English language skills, financial guarantees, working rights and dependants, to root out bogus students; and new restrictions on post-study work to make sure that all but the very best return home after study. This package will stop bogus students studying meaningless courses at fake colleges, protect our world-class institutions, stop the abuse that became all too common under Labour, and restore some sanity to our student visa system. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Home Secretary for the half-hour’s advance sight of her statement, as has become the form for the Home Office. Helpfully, however, we were, of course, able to read about the main changes in the newspapers this morning. As has become the form for this Government, we were also able to read opposing stories in opposing newspapers. The Business Secretary briefed the Financial Times that the policy had been completely changed so that he could support universities in expanding the number of their foreign students; the Home Secretary promised The Sun that the policy meant slashing foreign student numbers. Different policies for different papers, policies changing all over the place, and an unseemly row at the heart of the Government—such is the chaos at the centre of the Government’s immigration policy for students.

The Home Secretary is right to say that migration makes an important contribution to our economy, the strength of our business and our vibrant society. She is also right to say that migration needs to be properly controlled to sustain social cohesion and an effective labour market. She will recognise the importance of the higher and further education sector to the British economy. Non-EU students contribute an estimated £5 billion to the UK economy, support thousands of jobs in teaching and related areas, and make education an extremely important export industry. It is important that we recognise that economic value in providing workable migration policies. She will know that the Home Affairs Committee stated in its important report that it

“would caution against measures which could be detrimental to a thriving, successful industry.”

Does she recognise, too, that CentreForum has said that moves to tighten the restrictions on overseas students will risk nearly 12,000 jobs in education and another 12,000 in the wider economy?

Some of the damage has already been done. Anecdotally, some universities are already noticing a significant drop in applications from foreign students as a result of the signals being sent out by the Home Secretary’s consultation. Does she believe that the 80,000 drop in student visas to which she has referred will consist entirely of visas for bogus students on bogus courses, or does she believe that some legitimate students, too, will be put off as a result of the measures that she has announced?

We agree that we should not tolerate bogus colleges and fake students. People who want to come to this country need to play by the rules. That is why the Labour Government introduced a system of highly trusted sponsors through our respected universities, and we support measures that will build on that, so long as they are introduced in a workable way. It is also why we closed 140 bogus colleges.

Can the Home Secretary tell the House how the UKBA is going to increase its checks on colleges and students when it is facing staff cuts of 9,000?

What is the Home Secretary’s position now on pre- degree courses? In the consultation she said that she would introduce substantial restrictions on pre-degree level courses being covered by tier 4 visas, but there was silence from her on that issue in her statement today. Can she confirm that she has now ditched that proposal to remove pre-degree level courses?

We also agree that there should be appropriate restrictions on students’ employment. It is welcome that the Home Secretary has taken into account some of the evidence about the international competitiveness of UK higher education, but she put that into the context of trying to help youth unemployment. Is not the truth that her figures will mean restricting post-study work permits for non-EU students by about 19,000 at a time when youth unemployment is nearer 1 million? If she were serious about tackling youth unemployment she might be talking to the Chancellor about reversing some of his cuts, and reinstating the future jobs fund. Is not the truth that this policy is not about youth unemployment or bogus courses, but about hitting higher education because she cannot meet her promise to cut net migration to tens of thousands over the course of this Parliament?

What is now the Government’s policy towards foreign students studying bona fide courses at legitimate institutions? Does the Home Secretary want their number to increase or fall? The Business Secretary has said of the higher education sector:

“It’s an export industry; we want to grow it.”

But the Home Secretary has said that she wants the numbers cut. The Business Secretary wants more foreign students, and she wants fewer. If Britain’s major universities and colleges, faced with nearly £3 billion of cuts, decide to expand their courses and double the number of legitimate foreign students paying full fees in order to subsidise British students, will she support them or not? If they increase their legitimate students by 80,000, will she support them or not?

Finally, will the Home Secretary tell the House what the position is on student visitor visas, which she did not mention? Will she confirm that although she is restricting tier 4 student visas, in December she increased the number of students and courses eligible for student visitor visas? Will she confirm that under that visa, people can still apply for non-degree courses that are not run by highly trusted sponsors and do not have any minimum language requirement? Will she confirm that she has done nothing to prevent an increase of perhaps 80,000 in student visitor visas, and will she admit that the people on those visas will not be included in the net migration figures? Does that not expose the real con at the heart of her policy? Although she is making restrictions in one area, she is increasing the student visitor visas in another area that does not count towards her net migration targets.

The Home Secretary promised that she would put an end to non-EU students working once they had finished their course: the plan is ditched. She promised that she would put an end to non-EU applicants taking courses that were not degrees: that plan is ditched. She promised a new border police force, and that is still on the Conservative party website, but instead the Government have cut 5,000 staff from the UK Border Agency.

Time and time again policies are switched backwards and forwards, and in the end, it is all because the Home Secretary knows she cannot meet the promise that she made to cut migration numbers to the tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament. Is that still her target, will she still deliver it by the end of this Parliament, and is it not time she made policies that are in the interests of British universities, the British economy and a sensible, controlled migration policy, rather than taking risks with an important export industry for the sake of promises she knows she cannot keep?

I have to say that I am incredibly disappointed by the right hon. Lady’s response—but to be fair to her, there was one bright spark in it: she actually gave a statement on Labour’s immigration policy, which she has failed to do for two months. She said that the Labour party agreed that migration should be properly controlled. Sadly, however, in every other statement that the Opposition have made, be it in response to this announcement or the announcement on curbing the number of non-EU economic migrants, they have refused to support the measures that will bring about that proper control. We see that policy approach from the Labour party in relation to other things as well, such as public spending. The Opposition say they want to do something, but do not support anything that would enable it to be done.

The right hon. Lady made an amazing series of statements and asked an amazing series of questions. It would have helped her if she had actually listened to my statement and looked at it properly before she responded. She asked me whether it is still our aim to reduce net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands, but as Hansard will confirm, the answer to that was on page 3 of the text of my statement. The very sentence I used was, “We aim to reduce net migration from the hundreds of thousands back down to the tens of thousands.” I said that in my statement; she did not need to bother with that question.

Let me go through the right hon. Lady’s other points. I find it difficult to take some of her statements. She said that the previous Labour Government targeted bogus colleges, but listening to her, one would have thought that immigration was fine under the previous Government—that it was controlled, and there were no problems with abuse of the student visa system. I could take such things from her a little better if the number of student visas had not increased by a third to 300,000 when the Labour Government closed tier 3 of the points-based system. They were not controlling the student visa system or immigration at all. Because of their lack of control, the most recent figures show net migration of over 200,000 in the last year. Far from Labour controlling that, it was going up under the previous Government.

There are one or two other facts that the right hon. Lady might like to reconsider. She claims that 9,000 staff have been cut in the UKBA, but that is not the correct figure; the correct figure is around 5,000. She said that the Government were not going to do anything about courses below degree level. The whole point of the private FE college sector is that it offers courses below degree level. We intend to remove the bogus courses, colleges and students so that we can do what her Government failed to do: deal with and control immigration.

The right hon. Lady made a lot of statements about the importance of universities to the UK. Yes, universities are an important part of the UK economy. That is precisely why the measures that I have introduced take great pains to ensure that we protect universities. We are protecting universities, our independent school sector and public sector FE colleges, and we are ensuring that those who want to come here as legitimate students on legitimate courses of study at legitimate institutions can do so. We are doing what she failed to do: we are cracking down on the abuse.

Order. A great many hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. I should like to accommodate everyone who has an interest, but brevity is vital if I am to have any realistic chance of doing so.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I have an unremunerated interest as a governor of Manchester Metropolitan university.

Will my right hon. Friend clarify two points? First, what is her view of students progressing from courses on English for academic purposes to degree courses? Secondly, what about those progressing from proper undergraduate degree qualifications to postgraduate courses within the same or other British universities?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, because it enables me to clarify a point about students who currently do so-called pathway courses for English language. One of the points made clear to us by the university sector was that it often has arrangements with colleges to allow students without the required level of English to come and learn it at a pathway college and then progress to university. They will be able to continue to do so, but the students entering the college must be sponsored by the university. The university’s highly trusted sponsor status will cover those students, and undergraduates who wish to progress to postgraduate studies will be able to do so. Our requirement for progression is that it is clear that academic progression is taking place, and obviously moving on to postgraduate study is exactly that.

As a lifelong expert in hyperbole, I advise the Home Secretary to ease off on it in the message to undergraduate and postgraduate students across the world. Some £25 million will be lost to the university of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam university from legitimate overseas students in the coming year. Will she promise the House that in taking the necessary tough measures in one area she will change the hyperbole and send the message to legitimate students across the world that they are welcome in the United Kingdom?

As I said in my statement, the message to the brightest and best students around the globe is clear: Britain’s world-class universities remain open for business. However, as I have said to the university sector, we need to work together to ensure that that positive message is the one given, not the negative one given by the shadow Home Secretary.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, particularly on the retention of a reformed post-study work route, on which I was especially keen. Given her estimate that the reforms will lead to about 80,000 fewer student migrants, does she believe that our world-class universities, such as the two excellent universities in my constituency, will still be able to recruit the brightest and the best, which is what our economy so urgently needs?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question, and for the considerable interest that she takes in the university sector. I can assure her that the proposals we have introduced today will ensure that universities are protected and will continue to be able to attract the brightest and best students from across the world.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, particularly on behalf of my unemployed constituents who are desperate to find work. Given that the numbers coming in and leaving the country are crucial to the whole debate, when will she be able to come to the House and announce a system for border controls that counts people in and counts them out again?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. This is an issue in which he has taken a long-standing interest. I will give two answers to his question. The e-Borders system, which is being put in place, is partly working at the moment; complete application will come in 2015. In the next couple of months we will also make proposals on settlement, in which I know he has taken a particular interest.

Does the Home Secretary agree that higher education in the UK is world class, and that our top institutions should remain open for business to genuine students, but that bogus colleges, which provide nothing more than an excuse for entry into the UK, should be forced to close their doors promptly?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The package that we have introduced today will protect our universities, which provide a world-class education. Students should want to come here for that quality of education, and we need to crack down on bogus colleges. It gives the UK a bad name when people see that they can come here supposedly as students but not get a proper education.

It is estimated that the loss of income to higher education resulting from the Government’s current policies on the issuance—or non-issuance—of tier 4 permits for pre-university pathway courses is costing higher education an enormous amount of money. I waited in vain during the Home Secretary’s statement for clarification on the position pending the announcements. Will she make it clear whether tier 4 applicants can now come here to do pre-university pathway courses?

The hon. Gentleman is correct: I did not mention that in my statement; I referred to it in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady). Pathway courses for students without the correct level of English to enable them to study at university will continue, but the student will need to be sponsored by the university concerned—the highly trusted sponsor.

In recent years I have been on the advisory board of the London School of Commerce.

I want to ask the Home Secretary about post-study work, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood). I have slight reservations. Given the excellence of our offering and the idea that we will get some phenomenally innovative students from across the globe who will go back as ambassadors for this country, has any research been done in the Home Office showing that we might lose some of those students to places such as the United States or Australia, or are we confident that the changes will have no such adverse impact?

I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that there is no evidence that that will be the upshot. Our system is similar to those in operation elsewhere. It is wrong to say that the United States has a formal post-study work route; it does not. There are some abilities for people to stay and do some work in the United States, but they are different. Indeed, in some ways our requirements will continue to be less tough than those in countries such as Australia.

I thank the Home Secretary for keeping to her promise to publish her proposals after the Select Committee on Home Affairs had published its report last week. I hope that she found the report helpful. There is much to welcome in her statement—we recommended action on bogus colleges, reform of the post-study route and better accreditation—but will she look at the two most important recommendations, on whether students are migrants if they come here genuinely to study and then to leave, and on the issue of data? Unless we have proper data, we can make only flawed policy.

Obviously one is always looking to improve the quality of the evidence on which policy can be based. As for whether students are migrants, we use the internationally accepted United Nations definition of “migrant”, which is somebody coming to stay for over 12 months.

I warmly welcome the package that the Home Secretary has announced today and her determination to tackle the problem of bogus colleges and bogus students, which the Home Affairs Committee has been warning about for a long time, but on which no action had been taken. She has announced that she will return a measure of independence to entry clearance officers, which is welcome. Will she consider returning to them—as recommended by the Home Affairs Committee and Migrationwatch—the wider discretion that was removed under the points-based system, which would be in the interests of both facilitating genuine students and keeping out bogus students?

Having spoken to UK Border Agency officers at points of entry, I am conscious of the frustration that they have felt at not having the discretion to deal with people whom they have plainly seen were not coming here as bona fide students, so I am pleased to restore a degree of discretion to them. My hon. Friend tempts me to go further than that, but that is not a path down which I intend to go at the moment. There were some issues raised about the greater degree of discretion available previously, but we are constantly looking at our immigration system and the way in which UKBA officers operate.

I welcome the continuation of the notion of trusted status among the universities. When the Home Secretary finesses the rules, will she ensure sufficient scope for universities to take into account the realities of the circumstances that face them? In some areas of science and engineering, students come here with weak English but amazing skills and the ability to learn very quickly. Equally, some post-doctoral or postgraduate students come here with spouses who do not speak English. Will she ensure that universities have the capacity to deal with all those complex cases?

We have already introduced some English language requirements for people coming here to marry somebody in the UK, but the English language requirement relates to the postgraduate student who will be at university, not to a spouse entering as the dependant. It has been put to me that there are potentially a small number of cases of people who are extremely bright, but who do not have the correct level of English. My answer to that is twofold. First, it will be open to those people to go through a pathway course to the university. However, secondly, we will retain a small margin of flexibility where academic registrars have an individual student who is particularly brilliant but whose English they do not think will improve to the necessary level within the time scale required.

May I congratulate the Home Secretary and her Minister of State on this important and long overdue measure to put right years of neglect in the system? After the system has had time to settle down, will she consult the Migration Advisory Committee and ask for any recommendations it might have on how to tighten up on bogus students?

I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome for the statement. We are asking the Migration Advisory Committee generally to look annually at the immigration arrangements that we are putting in place, but it will be consulted, as I made clear in my statement, if we find that the number of students staying on for post-study work rises unexpectedly and significantly. We would ask the MAC to look into such a situation and to determine whether any abuse was taking place, and that could include the possibility of a limit.

Will the Home Secretary tell us what the tone has been of the representations that she has received on this issue from the Scottish universities and the Scottish Government? What have they said about the funding issues and about the competitive situation? The Home Secretary knows that we do not have a fixation with immigration in Scotland; in fact, we are experiencing a structural fall in population numbers. We also have no evidence of bogus colleges. Will she consider an exemption for Scotland, so that any unforeseen consequences of her announcement today do not impact on our universities north of the border?

During the consultation, we had discussions with the Scottish Government and the Secretary of State for Scotland. He and I spoke about the concerns that Scottish universities had raised with him, one of which related to students who had an entrepreneurial idea and wished to stay on to launch a business. That is why we are ensuring that, within the post-study work rules, there will be a possibility to protect student entrepreneurs.

The shadow Home Secretary claimed last month that, under the points system, “a lot of progress” was being made. Will my right hon. Friend assess the progress that Labour made in controlling migration?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. The answer is a very short one, because Labour did not make any progress in controlling migration, as we saw from the fact that it closed tier 3 of the points-based system, as though that would have some magic result for immigration, and all that happened was that the number of student visas went up instead.

Given that a substantial segment of the economy of the city of Manchester depends on the success of its world-class universities, one of which occupies the biggest campus in western Europe, and that those universities have already begun to cut courses as a result of other Government policies, can the right hon. Lady assure Manchester that her policies will not irrevocably damage the city’s economy, which is already suffering dreadfully under this Government?

Yes, I can confirm that. The message that the right hon. Gentleman can take back to his constituents is that the universities in Manchester are open for business to first-class international students, as they always have been.

I thank the Home Secretary and her Cabinet colleagues for listening to the representations of the university communities. As the questions of exit visas and bogus colleges and the success of our students and universities are a continuing matter of concern for the growth of the British economy, will my right hon. Friend and the Business Secretary undertake to report back annually to Parliament on this matter, to ensure that the successful import of academics into this country can continue?

I can assure my right hon. Friend that we will be giving regular reports to Parliament on what we are doing on the immigration system. People will also be able to see what is happening with other aspects of the system, as I have said; I shall be coming back to Parliament to discuss those as well. I am absolutely clear that what the coalition Government have announced today will ensure that our universities can continue to attract students from across the world and to provide world-class education.

Some of the brightest and best international students attend Trinity Laban, the dance and music conservatoire in my constituency. Will students who wish to progress from undergraduate to postgraduate studies have to return home to obtain visas, and will students be able to work in this country if they are offered a job paying less than £20,000 a year, which is possible? Many have international careers ahead of them.

Let me deal with the right hon. Lady’s second question first. A code of conduct will be agreed between the UKBA and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills—obviously the Home Office will look at it as well—and will set out the requirements for the post-study work route. I outlined those requirements briefly in my statement, but it will be necessary to consider particular sorts of occupation and the appropriate rates applying to them. As for the right hon. Lady’s first point, no, those students will not be required to return home.

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, and congratulate her on her approach. Can she assure me that she will be tough and allow only legitimate institutions on to the highly trusted sponsor list? That would of course benefit us in the United Kingdom, but we must also be fair to students who come to the UK to study.

My hon. Friend has made an extremely important point. It will not benefit the UK if people throughout the world who have received the message that they can come here and be given an education end up in a bogus college. We will certainly be tough on highly trusted sponsor status. We will ensure that there is proper accreditation in terms of the educational qualifications and educational standard that colleges must offer, while the UKBA will look into whether they are observing immigration rules.

What level of English language qualification will be required for students attending English language schools? I understand from the proposals that even students taking short courses will require an intermediate-level qualification. If that is the case, will it not prove damaging to many genuine colleges that make an important contribution to the economy in our constituencies?

The requirements will be B2 for university-level study and B1 for below degree-level study, so there will be a B1 requirement for the pathway courses. As the hon. Gentleman will know—this enables me to answer a question asked earlier by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) —we are piloting a system enabling student visitor visas to remain valid for 11 months. The right hon. Lady appeared to suggest that they were included in the migration figures, but they are not.

They are not included in the migration figures, and they are therefore not covered by my statement. However, as the hon. Gentleman will probably know from discussions in which he has engaged in the past with, among others, the Minister for Immigration the requirements of the English language colleges were of particular concern to us, and we have dealt with that by piloting the extension of the visitor visas.

I declare an interest as a member of the university of Cambridge, one of the three excellent universities in my constituency.

I welcome the changes that the Home Secretary has announced, because the original proposals in the consultation would have caused a great deal of harm to much of our education industry. I was interested to hear what she said about student entrepreneurs. How will that system operate? Will it form part of the post-study work system, and will it apply only to new applicants? Will we be telling students who came here expecting a particular set of post-study work rules that they will be changed while they are in the middle of their studies?

We will make absolutely clear when the new post-study work route proposals will be implemented. Students will have reached various stages in their courses, but there will be a specific point at which the post-study work route requirement is introduced. Those who are already studying in the UK and may have expected to stay will still be able to stay, provided that they obtain graduate-level jobs. It is the qualification level for the jobs that will change.

As for the arrangements for student entrepreneurs, we are considering how best to position them in the immigration system. I hinted earlier that they might form part of the post-study work route, but we might consider other routes. The intention is to enable a student who is graduating from university and who has a first-class idea to set up a business and put that idea into practice, and I think it right for us to do so.

I understand the right hon. Lady’s concern to reduce abuse in the visa system, but what is she doing to ensure that the measures announced today do not simply send a message to bona fide students applying to legitimate institutions that they are not welcome, especially as that would create huge problems for our excellent universities and colleges?

What I am doing at every possible opportunity is saying that our universities are still open for business to overseas students. I have said at every stage, both throughout the statement and in response to a number of questions, that the whole point of what we are proposing is to protect the universities while dealing with the bogus colleges. I think that is the right approach, and I hope it meets with agreement across the entire House.

I welcome the general thrust of the statement, and my constituents will be delighted to hear about it. I particularly welcome the statement that Britain’s universities are open for business to the brightest and best, but I must tell the Home Secretary that that perception does not hold good in China. In fact, the Chinese think we are closed for business. What specific measures will the Home Secretary take to improve that situation?

I thank my hon. Friend for his opening comment, but I do not think that there is any reduction in the number of applications from Chinese students wanting to come to the UK. However, as I have said in answer to a number of other questions, we are absolutely clear about the purpose of what we are announcing today, and I have talked with the university sector about the responsibility that it also has for ensuring that the message is given that UK universities are open for business.

Which criteria will the Home Office use to differentiate low-risk and high-risk origin countries, and will they change as a result of today’s announcements?

We already have a list of low-risk countries— I think about 15 countries are on it. The quality of documentation that can be provided to back up students’ applications is an example of the sort of criteria we will consider for determining that.

I also welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, as will my constituents. She will be aware of the recent Home Affairs Committee report, which noted from the evidence taken that the student visa system was likely to remain leaky until an effective method of counting students in and out of the country was established. She has already said something about that to the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), but can she say a little more?

There are various aspects of that particular issue, of course. In addition to the response I gave to the right hon. Gentleman on the e-Borders system, I might add that the UK Border Agency will, as part of its assessment of whether institutions can become highly trusted sponsors, examine whether they ensure that their students go home after their period of study. That is another way in which we will try to ensure that the issue is addressed.

I serve on the external board of Birmingham university’s business school and I must tell the Home Secretary that both Birmingham university and Aston university are experiencing a reduction in the number of applications, so her message is not being heard. May I challenge her a little further on post-study work? Is she working with business schools on that, because they have very specific requirements, and if we lose sight of them, we will harm ourselves greatly?

We have been discussing with business and the university sector what might be the appropriate criteria for the post-study work route, and the message both those sectors have given me loud and clear is that if international students graduating from UK universities are to go into a job, that should be a graduate-level job.

Three months ago, the Home Secretary proposed closing the post-study work route, expressing concerns that it was adding to graduate unemployment. Will she explain to unemployed graduates in my constituency why she now says that foreign students can stay on, so long as they take a graduate job earning at least £20,000 a year?

We have looked at the balance of interests among universities, the UK economy, businesses and, of course, those currently resident in the UK who are graduating from UK universities and looking for jobs. That is why we have not said that graduates can stay on under the terms of the current post-study work route, which allows them to stay on and go into unskilled jobs or stay on and not be in employment. We think it is right that the brightest and best should have an opportunity to stay here for a limited period of time, but they must be in a skilled graduate-level job. We have been absolutely clear, however, that if the numbers unexpectedly or significantly increase, we will ask the Migration Advisory Committee to look at how we can ensure that abuses do not continue—if that is happening—and that could include limiting the numbers.

The Home Secretary will get support—not least from me—for her previous answer, because it is important to get that balance right. Will she clarify something for me? One of the things involved in the post-study work route that she has described is a system of UK Border Agency licensing. If that is to exist, will those who operate it be properly trained and will they operate with proper flexibility? That has not always been the case in the past. Does she recognise the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) that for some graduate professions, such as the performing arts and dance, the £20,000 limit could be impossible to attain in post-study work?

I am happy to say to the hon. Gentleman that we are not creating a new process at the UKBA; it already has such a process for tier 2 of the points-based system. The UKBA is used to operating the system and to discussing with business and others the appropriate codes of conduct and measures within those codes, in order to ensure that people stay on in the right level of job. The UKBA is well used to employing a degree of flexibility in dealing with occupations that do not fit into a more stereotypical approach in terms of levels of salary.

May I welcome the Home Secretary’s decision to ensure that all sponsors will now need to be accredited by the relevant body and become highly trusted sponsors? Can she confirm that that will also apply to universities and in particular to the university of Derby in my constituency?

Yes, I am happy to say to my hon. Friend that universities are highly trusted sponsors and will need to continue to be so. As they are audited by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, they fall into that definition, as I set out in my statement. I would expect our universities to continue to be highly trusted sponsors.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s recognition of the importance of the post-study work route as a significant part of this country’s attractiveness to international students compared with our competitor countries, but I fear that her proposed changes will not go far enough in convincing potential students that this country really is open for business. Would it not be better to take the advice of the vice-chancellors of both the Sheffield universities in my constituency, which is that we should simply exempt highly trusted sponsor institutions from any changes to the post-study work arrangements?

As I said in response to an earlier question, both the universities sector and the business sector have indicated in my discussions with them that they think it is right that the post-study work route should allow to stay on only those individuals who are going into graduate-level jobs. The hon. Gentleman says that the post-study work route is an important attraction for international students in deciding to study in the UK. Frankly, what should attract international students to the UK is the quality of education provided by our universities.

The Home Secretary is absolutely right to crack down on bogus colleges, which are at the heart of this problem, and I welcome her assurance that legitimate colleges can continue to attract legitimate students. One such highly trusted institution in my constituency is the university of Worcester. How will she ensure that highly trusted universities of that sort can continue to attract the best and can benefit from these changes overall?

First, as I have just said, I expect the universities to continue to retain their highly trusted sponsor status and therefore to be open to attract individuals to come from overseas to study at them. Many universities have done a very good job of advertising themselves and promoting the quality of education that they can offer. It is for the universities and for us to be absolutely clear in saying to people that our universities remain open for business and provide a first-class education.

Liverpool’s three universities attract approximately £66.6 million in gross income from international students. That income is a significant driver for Liverpool’s economy and is absolutely vital at a time when university funding is being so drastically cut. Will the Home Secretary please expand on what the tougher entry requirements for demonstrating international students’ financial means will be and can she guarantee that the proposals will not prevent genuine students from coming to study in Liverpool?

The proposals will not prevent genuine students from coming to study, but we do need to look at things such as documents provided by banks to ensure that they are genuine institutions that are genuinely backing up the financial claims being made by individuals who come here to study. It is in nobody’s interests to allow people to use documents that are not legitimate when they apply for a student visa to come to the UK. As regards the three universities in Liverpool, as I have made absolutely clear, they will continue to be able to attract international students.

I congratulate the Home Secretary on facing down some of the hysterical hyperbole from the Opposition, parts of the media and parts of the further and higher education sector. On English proficiency and integration, will she please work with our colleagues across government to address the very specific issue of the hundreds of millions of pounds spent by British taxpayers on translation and interpretation services—a non-statutory duty—and to reduce such expenditure in these financially straitened times?

My hon. Friend is taking me down a road that goes beyond the Home Office’s area of responsibility, large though that is. I fully accept the thrust of his comment about the importance of people being able to speak English, which is precisely why we introduced a requirement last year that those who come here to marry or join a partner should be able to speak English to a particular standard.

I welcome much of the sentiment in the Minister’s statement. Will she facilitate a meeting with representatives of Queen’s university Belfast and the Royal Victoria hospital? They provide many opportunities for students to come and learn about medicine and then to go into those teaching institutions and provide services to many of our patients in Northern Ireland.

I note the hon. Gentleman’s comment and request; my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration will be happy to meet him.

One popular scam involves students deliberately failing their examinations repeatedly in order to retake them and hence prolong their stay in the UK. What action is my right hon. Friend proposing to tackle such scams?

I referred in my statement to students who stay on and move from course to course but I had not got as far as those who deliberately, as my hon. Friend suggests, fail their exams. There will be a time limit on how long someone can stay in the UK—three years for a below degree-level course. The limit will be extended for postgraduate studies and to accommodate those who are doing medicine and longer courses, but there will be a limit on the number of times that someone can try that ruse.

One in five of the students granted a student visa in 2004 was still here in 2009. Will my right hon. Friend please confirm whether the measures in her statement will end that type of abuse of the system?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely valid point. I am happy to tell him that the time limit on how long a student can stay in the UK will address precisely the point he raises.

Universities across Wales will welcome today’s statement, particularly as the right hon. Lady has been able to address so many of their concerns. Will she commit to maintaining the dialogue with the vice-chancellors that has proved so productive over the past couple of months so that we can ensure that the proposals deliver in the way that they are intended?

I am happy to confirm to my hon. Friend that we will be happy to continue speaking with the vice-chancellors.

I strongly welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, particularly as I have learned that in one private college there was no classroom tuition whatever and there were so-called work placements up to 280 miles from the college. Does she agree that it is important that student visa holders should be studying and not working?

I could not agree more. If someone comes to the UK to study and do a course of education, that is precisely what they should be doing. They should not use the student visa route as a back-door entry into migration for work.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her statement, which will be warmly welcomed by the legitimate private language college sector throughout the country. There are a number of such legitimate colleges in Wimbledon, so will she outline the changes that she expects that they will need to make to comply with her statement?

A process will be set out for those legitimate colleges by the UK Border Agency. It will be necessary that they apply for highly trusted sponsor status and for accreditation, and we will set out the time limit for that application process soon. They will need to receive highly trusted sponsor status by April 2012 and educational accreditation by the end of 2012.

Last and hopefully not least, I am sure that I am not the only Member of the House who is astonished by how widespread the abuse of the student visa system has become. May I ask the Home Secretary whether our policy to reduce net migration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands is supported by the shadow Home Secretary?

That is a very good question, and perhaps the shadow Home Secretary would like to answer it at some stage.