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Student Visas

Volume 553: debated on Monday 19 November 2012

Our student visa reforms are tackling abuse of the system while protecting universities.

We do not publish forecasts of numbers of grants, but the recently published entry clearance visa statistics for the year to June 2012 show that the number of tier 4 study visas was 214,000. That is a 30% decrease on the year before, mainly from the non-university sector. There is no cap on recruitment to universities and, as I have said, UCAS acceptances of non-EU students are up 4%.

I thank the Minister for his answer. He has said that the number of visas granted has gone down. Does he want that trend to continue, or does he agree with me that that will damage any attempt to promote our higher education system as a great British product?

As I have said, there is no cap on the number of students going to universities. I want the number of visas granted to people who plan to come to the United Kingdom to abuse our immigration system to go down, which is exactly what has happened. We have got rid of the abuse and we are making sure that our university sector is open for business. I make no apologies for the fact that I have said that three times during questions. We have a good offer for our university sector, and it can make a success of it.

Given the scale of the earlier abuse, does my hon. Friend agree that the integrity of the student visa system depends on interviews? Is he satisfied that there will be sufficient staff at our embassies and consulates overseas to cope with the valued and welcome arrival of students in this country?

My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. We have started to do some interviewing in some high-risk countries, which has been very successful and has demonstrated the value of interviewing in certain locations, which allows us to drive out some clear abuse. Where that makes sense, we will continue to do it and will increase our ability to do so.

The Prime Minister told students in Dubai—he has a habit of answering questions when he is abroad, if not when he is in this country—that there is no limit on international students in the UK, and the Minister has repeated that this afternoon. However, the Migration Advisory Committee states that there will have to be 86,600 fewer students over the next three years if the Government are to meet their target. Who is right? Is Boris Johnson right to say that we are losing a massive business opportunity? Is the director general of the CBI right to say that it is putting people off? Or is the Minister just confused?

The hon. Gentleman should understand that we have a net migration target, so those students who come to the UK, study and leave make no contribution to the net migration statistics. Our universities can go out, recruit smart students and educate them and they will make no difference at all to net migration. The Prime Minister is absolutely spot on and I think that it is the hon. Gentleman who is confused, as someone who does not believe in having a net migration target at all.