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Student Visas

Volume 527: debated on Monday 9 May 2011

3. What estimate she has made of the likely effect of her policy on student visas on the number of visas issued in the 12 months following its implementation. (54319)

The policy will be fully implemented by the end of 2012. From then on, the estimated reduction is about 70,000 main applicant visas a year, plus a further reduction in student dependants of about 20,000.

I thank the Minister for that response. Will he add to it by telling us what responses he has received from universities on the student visa changes?

This is an important point because when we proposed this radical change the universities were understandably worried. Following our announcement, however, we have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the university sector. Indeed, Universities UK has said that the reforms

“will allow British universities to remain at the forefront of international student recruitment.”

I am delighted that the policy has been so welcomed by the sector.

In view of the importance of overseas students to the finances of British universities and to the wider UK economy, does the Minister agree with the Home Affairs Committee that students should not be counted within migration numbers?

The problem with the approach of the Home Affairs Committee, which, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, I always take very seriously, is that this is not my definition or the Government’s definition; it is an international United Nations definition that an immigrant is someone who moves to and settles in a country for more than a year. Any attempt to solve the immigration crisis that the Government inherited simply by changing the definitions would not be credible with the British public. People know that we have an immigration problem, and they want stern, robust action to be taken to solve it. That is what the Government are providing, and it is much more effective than changing definitions.

Is the Minister aware that, according to a number of stories, in addition to bogus colleges, there are colleges that engage in corrupt practices such as asking students for money in return for certificates? Will the Government take steps to crack down on those colleges as well, as they are often licensed by the Home Office?

Indeed we will. My hon. Friend makes a good point. This is about not just bogus colleges colluding with bogus students but bogus colleges conning would-be genuine students, both of which need to be stamped out. In the past 12 months we have revoked 21 tier 4-sponsored licences and suspended more than 70. We are also increasing our enforcement activities to drive out the widespread abuses we have found.

The Home Secretary and the immigration Minister have told us that the policy of reducing the number of student visas is an integral part of their overall policy to reduce net migration by tens of thousands by 2015, but the reality is that the policy is in tatters. The Home Secretary and the Minister say that that is the policy, but the Business Secretary and the Lib Dems say that it is not. The Prime Minister said recently:

“No ifs, no buts. That’s a promise we made to the British people.”

Will that promise be kept, given the agenda and proposals on visitors and relatives, and will he get the Lib Dems’ agreement?

I think there was a question in the middle of that. I am happy to assure the hon. Gentleman that we will of course meet our commitment to reduce net immigration to the tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament. If he is going to talk about confusion, he should talk to the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), who said that immigration was coming down in the last years of the Labour Government, although the figures that we have published show that it was going up. The points-based system without a limit was not solving the immigration crisis that her Government created, and this Government are taking effective action across the board that will resolve the crisis that we inherited.