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Student Visa System

Volume 553: debated on Monday 19 November 2012

4. What steps her Department is taking to reform the student visa system; and if she will make a statement. (128816)

We have overhauled the student visa regime with a series of reforms designed to drive abuse out of the system while improving standards in the sector. As I said in reply to the previous question, we have seen that being successful. The overall number of visas in the part of the sector where there has been abuse is down, but the number of non-EU students accepted into our universities is up. Our universities are very much open for business, and there is no cap on recruitment to them.

Many of my constituents have been appalled at the systematic abuse of the student visa system. Will my hon. Friend reassure us that his Department will continue to pursue bogus colleges, which for far too long under the previous Labour Government just opened doors for people to come to this country on bogus student visas?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. The point of having student visas is to allow students to come here to study, not to work illegally. We have a very good offer for our higher education sector; students can come here, study and take up work appropriately, and then come here after their studies for post-study work. It is a very good offer. Our good universities should have no trouble converting it into attracting students and saying that they are very much open for business.

Will the Minister take this opportunity to wish the international students at London Metropolitan university all the best for their continuing studies there and assure those who have been given one year that they will indeed be allowed to complete the totality of their degree course? Will he confirm that he is having discussions with the university to allow it once more to recruit international students to what is an excellent course of study offered by it?

The hon. Gentleman will know that London Metropolitan university did not carry out the obligations it was supposed to under its sponsor licence, yet it was given plenty of notice to do so. He will also know that the legitimate students who were here appropriately have been given the opportunity to stay either to the end of their course or to the end of the academic year. They have all been written to, and all had the opportunity to reply. UKBA is working closely with the university to make sure that those legitimate students are properly protected.

23. I am pleased to hear that the Government are cracking down on the number of bogus students. However, with the closure of the post-study work route, what reassurance can the Minister give me and the House that we are not discouraging bright and capable international students from studying in the UK in the light of the short time frame they are given to find graduate employment? (128837)

Those students who are here to study at universities have an opportunity to find graduate level employment for several months after the end of their course. They can then convert their visa into a work visa and stay here after their course. I think that gives bright students every opportunity to do so, without letting people stay here to do unskilled work that is not of economic benefit to the United Kingdom.

Does the Minister accept that, while it is entirely right to bear down on abuses in the system, it is widely felt by higher education institutions throughout the United Kingdom that a message is being conveyed to areas such as south-east Asia and China that this country is no longer as welcoming as other European countries to overseas students who wish to study here? Does he recognise that that is potentially very damaging to the long-term health of the UK economy?

I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that Ministers take every opportunity—as I have today—to make clear that we have a very good offer to make. The only people whom I ever see quoted in the media saying that the UK is closed for business seem to be people from the education sector. I have pointed out to them directly, and will do so again, that there is a great offer for our university students. They should help us to sell and market Britain abroad, as I take every opportunity to do.