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International Students

Volume 569: debated on Monday 28 October 2013

5. What steps she is taking to restrict immigration routes into the UK without limiting the ability of UK universities to attract international students. (900697)

Since 2010, the Government have taken steps to reform all routes into the UK to deal with abuse, but we have been careful to protect our world-class universities. In the past year, we have still seen a rise in visa applications to universities.

Given that we have significantly restricted the ability of foreign students to stay on after the end of their studies, is it worth retaining their inclusion in the immigration figures?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, as it gives me the opportunity to say that they should be in the figures. Those who come here for more than a year are migrants in the same way others are, and use public services. It also gives me the opportunity to say that we have not restricted the ability of students to work where they have a graduate-level job that earns £20,300. We welcome the best and the brightest to do exactly that.

On the Chancellor’s recent visit to China, he made a big and open offer to the most populous country on earth: all Chinese students are welcome to study in the United Kingdom. If they take up that offer, that will have a serious effect on the Government’s aim to restrict immigration to under 100,000. What does the Minister for Immigration think of that big and open offer?

First, I do not think the Chancellor was suggesting that the entire population of China will come to the United Kingdom all in one go. The right hon. Gentleman makes a sensible point, but it is worth remembering that students who come to the UK will stay for their course and then leave. They do not, over time, make a contribution to net migration. We have, however, already seen strong growth in the number of students coming from China. They are welcome at our universities and we want to see them come.

What is the latest assessment the Minister has made of the value of international students to the UK economy and society?

We welcome international students as long as they study at a genuine university or other genuine institution. We have dealt with abuse, which we inherited from the Opposition, but we welcome students and the best of them are welcome to stay here to create businesses, wealth and jobs.

The Minister knows that almost the entire Scottish higher education establishment despise the immigration reforms, which do nothing but make Scotland a less attractive place to come. This is not working for us and we do not have the issues of the rest of the United Kingdom. Can we now make our own course, so that we can make Scotland an attractive and welcoming place for international students?

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the facts, he will see that there is an increase in the number of international students going to the excellent universities in Scotland. Scotland is attractive to international students, as is the rest of the United Kingdom. I see no evidence that our immigration reforms are turning students away.

International students play a vital role in Sunderland university, which is in my constituency. The changes to immigration rules since the Government came to power have made a lot of areas of the world feel that we are closed for business. What is the Minister doing to address that view and change it back, so that they know we are open for business and welcome international students?

Ministers take every opportunity to make the case that we welcome genuine students and to set out the attractive offer we have. As the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chair of the Select Committee, said, both the Chancellor and the Mayor of London were in China recently to make that case. The Prime Minister has been to India, as has my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. We make the case at every opportunity and I am glad the hon. Lady is doing so, too.