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Student Visitor Visas

Volume 566: debated on Monday 15 July 2013

In the 12 months to March 2013, 69,542 student visitor and extended student visitor visas were issued—6% more than in the year to March 2012. A recent study conducted by the Home Office showed that student visitors come mainly for short courses or university summer schools and make a valuable contribution to economic growth.

I am grateful to the Minister for his answer, but he will know that last year the independent chief inspector raised concerns about the risk of abuse in the student visitor visa system. What action is he going to take to address these concerns, strengthen the check and close this loophole?

There is not a loophole. If the hon. Lady had listened to my answer to her question she would know that I said—and I said the same thing at questions last month—that we have conducted a research study that clearly showed that the route is not abused and that there is no sign at all in respect of the nationalities on which we clamped down on tier 4 visas of any increase in student visitor visas. A significant portion of those coming to the country as student visitors are non-visa nationals, half of whom are from the United States of America.

The Minister should not be discouraged in any way. In my experience, politicians may have to say things several thousand times before they are heeded. The Minister is getting some good practice.

We must of course ensure that our visa system is fit for purpose, but will the Minister acknowledge the importance of non-EU students not only to the national economy but to local economies? There are 33,000 in Yorkshire and the Humber and 5,795 at Leeds university alone, and they make a huge contribution to the local area.

I do acknowledge that, and, as I made clear in answer to an earlier question, we have no plans to cap the number of students who come to our excellent universities and make a valuable contribution to growth. The best of them will have an opportunity to remain here after their studies if they find graduate-level jobs that pay decent salaries, and they are very welcome to do so.

I warmly congratulate the Minister on slapping down the swivel-eyed loons in his own party who are calling for a ban on non-EU students, but does he not understand that his own policy is effectively introducing a cap? That is why the Prime Minister had to fly to India to beg people to start coming back to study in this country. When will the Government stop undermining British universities and colleges which are trying to compete around the world for this important market?

The hon. Gentleman has had his Weetabix this morning!

Our reforms have been successful. The number of students going to our excellent universities is up by 5%, and the universities are doing very well. We have seen strong growth, for example—

That is because a significant number of people who have come to this country in the past purporting to be students have not actually been students. We have rooted out a large number of bogus colleges that were abusing the immigration system, and I make no apology for our having done so.