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Student Visas

Volume 560: debated on Monday 25 March 2013

13. What assessment she has made of the number of student visitor visas issued in the last year for which figures are available. (149419)

In 2012, 68,372 student visitor visas were issued, 11% more than in 2011. Such visitors come to take short courses or to attend university summer schools. Most can stay for up to six months, but in order to support English language schools, we now allow those taking specialist English courses to stay for up to 11 months on extended student visit visas.

The UK Border Agency’s border inspector has warned that student visitor visas are open to abuse, so why has the number of people entering the UK with them risen by 76% under this Tory-led Government?

The hon. Lady ought to check what the chief inspector actually said. All he said was that the UKBA should monitor the route to ensure that it was not being exploited, and that is exactly what it is doing. If the hon. Lady looks at the nationalities in relation to which we have reduced the number of tier 4 visas, she will see that there is no sign of any increase in student visitor visas. In fact, nearly 50% of the people using the student visitor route are non-visa nationals, and a large proportion of those coming here with six-month student visitor visas are from the United States of America. There is no risk of abuse, but we remain alert to it and will ensure that we catch it out.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the fact that the number of university visas has increased by 3% while at the same time the number of student visas is actually falling shows that it is possible to strip abuse from the system while also ensuring that the UK is open to the brightest and the best?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There has been a big drop in the number of students coming here, but that is because we have stripped abuse from the system. Five hundred fewer colleges are able to bring in foreign nationals, but, as my hon. Friend says, there has been an increase in the number entering our excellent universities sector.

20. The Government have been caught napping by allowing the number of student visitor visas to rise by 30,000 since June 2010. Moreover, does the Minister accept that, in the words of Universities Scotland, he is damaging the brand of higher education by ensuring that genuine overseas students are included in the Government’s net migration target? (149429)

That is a very good example of a Member reading out a question without having listened to my previous answer. The hon. Gentleman clearly did not listen at all to what I said in response to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen). The number of students entering our excellent universities sector has risen, both in the United Kingdom and in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman should also know that the student visitor visa is credibility-based. Entry clearance officers have full powers to say no to students if they believe that they are not genuine student visitors to the United Kingdom.