With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement on student visas.
Since the last election, the Government have taken action across the board to reduce and control immigration. We have introduced a cap on economic migration from outside the European Union, we have reformed the family visa system, and we have eliminated much of the abuse of the student visa system we saw under the last Government. The result is that net migration from outside the EU is close to its lowest levels since the late 1990s, while net migration is down by a third since its peak under Labour.
The Government have always said that, even in the light of the reforms we have introduced, we need to keep each of the main immigration routes to Britain under review, we need to remain vigilant against abuse of the student visa system, and education providers need to meet their responsibilities. That is why I can tell the House that since the start of February immigration enforcement officers, with the support of the National Crime Agency together with officials from UK Visas and Immigration, have been conducting a detailed and wide-ranging investigation into actions by organised criminals to falsify English language tests for student visa applicants. They have also investigated a number of colleges and universities for their failure to make sure that the foreign students they have sponsored meet the standards set out in the immigration rules.
Since the reforms we introduced in 2011, it has been a requirement for all student visa applicants to prove they can speak English at an appropriate level. All students in further education or at a university that relies on English language testing who want to extend their stay by applying for a new student visa have to be tested by one of five companies licensed by the Government. One of those companies, the European subsidiary of an American firm called Educational Testing Service, was exposed by the BBC’s “Panorama” programme earlier this year following systematic cheating at a number of its UK test centres. Facilitated by organised criminals, this typically involved invigilators supplying, even reading out, answers to whole exam rooms, or gangs of impostors being allowed to step into the exam candidates’ places to sit the test. Evidently, this could happen only with considerable collusion by the test centres concerned. Having been provided with analysis from the American arm of ETS for a number of ETS test centres in the UK operating in 2012 and 2013, it has identified more than 29,000 invalid results and more than 19,000 questionable results. As it still has to receive test analyses from ETS for other testing centres it operated in the UK, it is likely that the true totals will be higher.
Officials from immigration enforcement and UK Visas and Immigration have not found evidence to suggest there is systematic cheating taking place in the tests carried out by the other providers.
As soon as the allegations of systematic cheating were first made, we suspended ETS testing in the UK, put a hold on all immigration applications from those in the UK using an ETS test certificate, and made all applications from overseas subject to interview by UK Visas and Immigration staff. In April ETS’s licence to conduct tests for immigration purposes ended, and two weeks ago we formally removed the company as a test provider in the immigration rules.
Because of the organised criminality that lies behind the falsified tests, the National Crime Agency has been brought in to work alongside immigration enforcement officers to pursue criminal action against the perpetrators. Immigration enforcement has begun work to identify anybody who is in the country illegally as a result of the falsified tests so that they can be removed. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is also helping the investigation by scrutinising pay and tax records. A criminal investigation has been launched into the role of ETS Global Ltd. More generally, immigration enforcement is working to identify, pursue, and prosecute those involved in facilitating this activity, and to investigate links to wider organised crime. Arrests have been made, and I expect more will follow.
I should make it clear that proof that a visa applicant can speak English is only one test for somebody seeking to study in Britain. Other requirements include proof of academic qualifications, attendance at college or university, and compliance with the immigration rules, and if these student visa applicants had to cheat to pass an English language test, it is highly doubtful that many of the colleges, and some universities, that sponsored them in numbers were fulfilling their duties as “highly trusted sponsors”.
As I said earlier in my statement, UKVI and immigration enforcement officers have been investigating many of these colleges and universities because of wider concerns about their conduct. The evidence they have provided of what is going on in these institutions is cause for serious concern. The work undertaken by HMRC has identified a number of overseas university students earning more than £20,000 a year, despite the rule that they must not work more than 20 hours per week during term time. Overseas students at privately funded further education colleges are not allowed to work at all, yet one college—the London School of Business and Finance—has 290 foreign students who worked and paid tax last year.[Official Report, 7 July 2014, Vol. 584, c. 2MC.] One university student identified by HMRC had been working a 60-hour week for six months.
UKVI identified people allegedly studying in London, while their home addresses were registered as restaurants as far away as Ipswich and Chichester. Students sponsored by Glyndwr university so far identified with invalid test results provided by ETS number more than 230, rising to more than 350 if the scores counted as questionable are added. The comparable figures for the university of West London are over 210 sponsored students with invalid scores, rising to over 290 when questionable scores are included.
At certain private further education colleges, as many as three quarters of the file checks completed by UKVI officers were a cause for concern. At one college, a staff member told UKVI officers that they were not encouraged to report students’ absence or failure because doing so would reduce the college’s income and jeopardise its right to sponsor foreign students. The Government are not prepared to tolerate this abuse, so I can tell the House that this morning the Home Office suspended the highly trusted sponsor status—that is, the right to sponsor foreign students—of Glyndwr university. In addition, we have suspended the licences of 57 private further education colleges, a list of which I will place in the Library of the House. We have told a further two universities—the universities of Bedfordshire and of West London—that they are no longer allowed to sponsor new students pending further investigations, which will decide whether they too should be suspended.
Other universities are involved in the continuing investigation, and further action may follow, although because of the steps they have already taken to improve their processes, including voluntarily ceasing overseas recruitment to London sub-campuses, we will not at this stage remove their right to sponsor foreign students. Because much of the worst abuse we have uncovered seems to be taking place at London sub-campuses of universities based in other parts of the country, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education will examine these London campuses to see whether further action should be taken against their parent universities.
The Government do not take such action lightly, but we are clear that this kind of irresponsibility cannot go without serious sanction. We have already removed some 750 bogus colleges from the list of those entitled to bring foreign students to Britain, and of these, almost 400, we now know, were linked to those who obtained invalid ETS certificates. We have tightened up the rules for individual students. We have reduced the level of immigration to Britain in part by cutting out abuse in the student visa system. But we have always said we must remain vigilant against abuse. The steps I have outlined today show that we will not hesitate to take firm action against those—students, colleges and universities—who do not abide by their legal responsibilities, and we will resolutely pursue organised criminality to bring those responsible to justice. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Minister for his usual courtesy in giving me advance notice of the statement, which is an astounding statement of systematic abuse on this Government’s watch. They said, no more bogus colleges; instead, we now have the major abuse of bogus certificates again being issued. As the Minister said, in February 2014 the Home Office announced that it had acted by suspending language tests run by ETS following an investigation by “Panorama”. The scale of the abuse—involving a minimum of some 48,000 students —is truly shocking and leaves open the question why it took the BBC, rather than the Minister’s own Department, to find the problem. Did the Minister or the Home Office know of this problem prior to the BBC reporting it, if not why not, and what checks did the Minister or his Department undertake?
It is clearly an abuse for language tests set by ETS to be taken by fake sitters, one that damages the integrity of the whole system. It is clearly right that the Minister has, finally, taken action today, and that criminal investigations are being pursued. Controlled migration and tackling bogus colleges are vital in protecting UK borders and stopping this exploitation. Indeed, that is why the previous Labour Government closed 140 colleges between April 2009 and January 2010.
However, my constituents and those of other Members will be outraged, and rightly so, by the news today that 48,000 people have fraudulently obtained language certificates, despite being unable to speak English, on this Government’s watch. There are a number of unanswered questions the Minister has not touched on that need further explanation. How many of these students are still in the United Kingdom? Does the Minister know where these 48,000 students are? Does he have addresses for them, and will he co-operate with the university sector and other sectors to ensure that we know where these individuals are, and take action? What steps is he taking to meet universities and colleges such as Glyndwr university, close to my own patch, to ensure that we rectify this problem as a matter of urgency?
Let us be clear: this Government’s failings are of their own making. They have been in office for four years. This is a scheme they established themselves, and this is a border crisis on the Home Secretary and the Minister’s watch. This is a Conservative-led coalition failure on immigration. The Government were warned about student visitor visas, which have increased from 38,000 under the last Government to 77,000 in the last 12 months. There are fewer checks and there is more scope for abuse.
This issue has been flagged up by John Vine, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration. In November 2012, he said that the Government were clearly failing to follow up on notifications of potential bogus students and that at the time of his inspection there was a backlog—or should we now, following the passport crisis, call it “work in progress”?—of some 153,000 such notifications without action being taken. What action is the Minister taking today to meet the obligations set out by Mr Vine in his November 2012 report regarding the backlog of notifications of bogus students? What steps is he taking to rescind the certificates, and on the fake students and their surrogates?
The UK remains a key destination for international students. The UK market in international students is worth £8 billion, and has the potential to rise to £25 billion by 2025. However, the Government are failing to follow up with sufficient energy the notifications of bogus students, they did not take action on this issue when they knew about it, and they are now putting in place measures to slow down visa applications. At a time when the Minister is missing the net migration target that he himself set, he is now failing on the integrity of the system. He needs to restore that integrity today as a matter of urgency.
Listening to the shadow Immigration Minister, one might be forgiven for thinking that Labour believed in controlled immigration, but let us remember some of the facts about Labour’s record: record net migration of 2.5 million; hundreds of bogus colleges selling immigration, not education; students turning up at Heathrow unable to answer questions in English or even to explain what their course was about; and supposedly highly skilled immigrants working as security guards.
I hear what the shadow Immigration Minister has said, but Labour did nothing to tighten up the system, and it has fallen to this Government to introduce further stringent measures. It appears that, despite all that—despite the serious issues highlighted in my statement today— Labour now want to introduce blunt targets to increase international student numbers. Indeed, I think the shadow Immigration Minister wants to take students out of the net migration numbers altogether. We will take no lectures from the Labour party about immigration and controlling the issuing of student visas.
The shadow Immigration Minister managed to ask some serious questions, and I will address them now. On the investigations that have taken place, I can say that we have taken significant steps to follow through on identifying, locating and removing those responsible. Hundreds of visits have already been conducted and removals have begun. The criminal investigation is ongoing, and he will understand that I cannot comment further on those cases.
We are taking steps in relation to Glyndwr, and have suspended its highly trusted sponsor status. We are keen to provide support for genuine students whose institutions are affected by this. From today, there is a designated student helpline available specifically for all students at the affected institutions. Dedicated staff will take calls on the helpline to ensure that students have an avenue for their questions to be answered and their concerns alleviated.
We are also setting up a working group with relevant education establishments, including Universities UK—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but the Opposition do not seem to care about what is happening to the students who are involved in this. They might want to listen. We are setting up a working group with Universities UK, the UK Council for International Student Affairs, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the Scottish Funding Council and the National Union of Students to enable the sector to support those genuine students who may eventually need to find a sponsor.
The right hon. Gentleman tried to make his general point about university applications, but the truth is that, while we have cut out much of the abuse in the student visa system, the number of overseas applications to study at British universities is up by 17% since the election, and that figure is based on genuine students. We are attracting the brightest and the best while, at the same time, resolutely focusing on ensuring that those who should not be here are stopped.
I was struck by what the right hon. Gentleman said about the immigration system not working, but I have to tell him—as we have done many times before—that it will take years to fix fully the system that we inherited from his party. We are making the difference. As the former UK Border Agency chief executive, Rob Whiteman, said last week, the agency that Labour set up was never going to work and it was right of this Government to break it into smaller pieces, because staff and managers can now get on with trying to put it right. If the right hon. Gentleman does not want to listen to Rob Whiteman, he could listen to the shadow Business Secretary who said that when he used to work in his predecessor’s surgeries, he could see how chaotic the UKBA was. “Hands up,” he said, “That was under my Government.”
All the facts I have outlined today are a direct legacy of the Labour party. A significant proportion of the students who have been caught cheating came to this country through a student visa system created by Labour. Under the previous Government, bogus colleges flourished, student visas were used for economic immigration and students did not even need to prove that they could speak English. The Government are focused on controlling immigration. Sadly, the Opposition still do not get it; it is as simple as that.
I normally have great respect for the shadow Immigration Minister, but his tone today was not right. When this Government came to power, they had to deal with a legacy of hundreds of thousands of bogus students coming to this country. I commend my hon. Friend for the firm steps he has taken to root out abuse and to work with the sector to protect the genuine universities, higher education institutions and the genuine students and this valuable industry. He should carry on that work and not listen to the Opposition party.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. He is right that we are focused on a system that attracts the brightest and the best to this country while rooting out abuse. The step that this Government have already taken in closing down 750 bogus colleges is striking, and there is more work to do. That is what we are focused on delivering.
This is a shocking report. I welcome all the steps taken by the Minister to try to get to the root of what has happened. We are of course grateful to the BBC for the investigation it conducted. However, the Home Affairs Committee has been saying for years to successive Governments that there should be 100% unannounced inspections of these colleges, some of which have been fostering a climate of deceit. At the moment, the last report suggests that only 37% were unannounced. Secondly, we must have face-to-face interviews with people abroad before they come to the United Kingdom. If that was done, the bogus students would never get here in the first place.
I am grateful to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee for his comments. He is right about the issue of interviewing those who are intending to come to this country to take up student positions through the student visa system. In the past year, we have conducted 100,000 interviews to root out abuse, identify those who do not necessarily have the language skills and provide that extra check. In respect of the continuing providers, we have stepped up announced and unannounced visits to check what services they are providing, and we are considering further what steps may need to be taken in relation to any re-procurement of the services to place safety and security right at the heart of the system.
Abuse is clearly unacceptable, and the Minister is right to be firm on those who cheat their way in, and on those organisations that actively help people to defraud the system. But we must not forget that around the world people are listening to the tenor of the debate here and the rhetoric that is used. Will the Minister make it clear, both now and in the future, that we still welcome bona fide students and that we are still open for business and will not take action against universities unless there is evidence that they are complicit in some of this fraud?
As I said in my statement, we have not taken this action lightly, and it has been based on visits to the various institutions and a detailed examination of the evidence before us. We seek to attract the brightest and the best, but my hon. Friend should be aware that applications from students sponsored by universities rose by 7% in the year to March 2014 and applications from students going to Russell Group universities by 11%. It is right that we focus on preventing abuse and that we have a rigorous system that seeks to attract genuine students to this country while ensuring that those who should not be here are rooted out.
I thank the Minister for his statement and ask him to share his thoughts on abuse that is occurring by those graduates who break their visa conditions by staying here after they should have left. Is he aware that a number of universities have difficulties over some students—presumably they can speak English—who do not pay their bills at the end of their courses? Those universities do not now award their degrees until the bills are paid. Might he not enter negotiations with the universities to consider that they should also have the responsibility of seeing that students go back home, according to their visa conditions, that degrees will not be awarded until those students are back home, and that the number of visas they can have, which could then be unlimited, will be linked to the numbers who actually return home?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the responsibilities of the academic institutions as part of the immigration system. They should ensure that students are attending and that they hold the right information in respect of them. We are seeking to work with the university of Portsmouth and others on the process that we need to put in place to ensure that students leave at the end of their course. It is right to underscore the role that the institutions have and the responsibilities that they hold in accommodating foreign students.
I share the view of colleagues that the Opposition’s failure either to understand their role in what has happened or even to acknowledge it is one of the things likely to weigh heavily in the minds of the public as we run towards next May. In particular, on attracting the brightest and the best, will my hon. Friend look carefully at some of the problems raised by Gulf states that are looking for more sponsorship for specialist applications in science, engineering and medicine and at the fact that the visa restriction is quite heavy in relation to them? Will he also look carefully at any evidence presented, because those students represent an advantage to this country and to the states that they come from?
My right hon. Friend underlines again the need for the Government to continue to focus on the problems that we were left by the previous Government. Their lack of appreciation of the scale of what they handed on is striking. He makes some important points about the some of the detailed applications and courses. I will, of course, look at any representations that he may wish to make on the nature of the points that he has raised, particularly in medicine.
UK universities contribute 2.8% to our GDP. The last time we had concerns about student visas, just one university in London was involved. This involves many colleges and universities. How long will this continue? As it continues, students from countries around the world who are contemplating coming to England will decide to go elsewhere. The Minister mentions hundreds of visits: 48,000 people are out there who should not be. Can he give us some time scales, please?
I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s knowledge of the university sector. This will take time to work through on the evidence and information available. It is right that meticulous work is conducted by our immigration enforcement officers to pursue their leads and lines of inquiry, where students who have relied on bogus certificates have sought to go on to university or college studies. I should like to reassure him of the Government’s commitment to supporting the whole universities sector. Indeed, I have had conversations with Universities UK and the Russell Group more generally on the excellent work that many of our universities do. They are world leading, and we should be proud of what they achieve and their ability to attract genuine students from overseas. We support that, but clearly we will rigorously focus on the abuse. I will certainly provide regular updates to the House on progress with the work to remove students and on further information that we may receive from ETS, as it continues to analyse its results from other centres.
I totally support this statement. Of course, all colleges and universities must fulfil all their legal responsibilities when they sponsor students from abroad. The university of West London plays an important role in the local community in Ealing, as well as in the wider world of higher education, so can my hon. Friend provide some reassurance that, where investigations have to continue, they will be conducted speedily, so that we can get a speedy resolution and, we hope, get that university back on track?
I assure my hon. Friend that discussions are ongoing with each institution that has been affected by my announcement. I recognise the desire to gain certainty and, indeed, for the measures and steps that those institutions are taking to put right abuses and to put their systems in place. This is something for those institutions, for the community and for genuine students who may be affected. That is why I made the points about the support that is being provided to them. I am conscious of the impact on them, too.
I share the concern expressed across the House about the abuse and about the fact that the Home Office seems to be relying on the BBC to undercover it. May I raise a case with the hon. Gentleman that I have raised with his boss? I have yet to receive the courtesy of a reply. St Mary Magdalene academy is a very ambitious school, with a big sixth-form centre. It teaches Mandarin. It wants to run an exchange programme with Chinese students from Peking. It has applied to have 10 students come over. It will not charge them. It hopes to have a reciprocal arrangement. It expects these kids to bring language skills and an attitude that will really help inner-city children. The opportunity that those inner-city children will have to go to Peking will be extraordinary. The fly in the ointment is the Home Office, which has not allowed them to have the visa. Will the hon. Gentleman please deal with this matter now?
There is the student visitor route, which is separate from the normal student visa route that applies for universities and further education colleges. I am, of course, happy to look into the specific case that the hon. Lady highlights. I am not familiar with the detail, as I hope she appreciates, but I am happy to look into the matter, if she can give me some more information, and to consider what might be appropriate.
Is not ETS the same company that grossly mismanaged the standard assessment tests in primary schools in 2008? If so, why was it originally given the contract in 2008 to test English language competencies? Will the Minister initiate a check across Whitehall to review any other ETS contracts with Departments?
ETS was a supplier and provider of services to the last Government and checks were undertaken in respect of the award of the contract, but I can give my hon. Friend a further assurance about work that we have commissioned to review all the suppliers of English language testing services. A review is being undertaken by the independent auditor Moore Stephens LLP, which is due to report next month. Additionally, it has been asked to undertake a wider review of other contractual or licence arrangements, including those relating to language testing services on which immigration, citizenship or other entitlements rely. We are focused on ensuring that there is such testing and audit across the board to give assurance internally and externally about the processes in operation and, indeed, to enable us to reflect further about contracts that might be awarded.
This is a very grave statement for Glyndwr university and for Wrexham. Will the Minister please clarify whether the withdrawal of status that he refers to applies to the whole university or only to its London campus? What discussions has he had with the Welsh Government, who are, of course, responsible for that devolved institution?
The suspension applies to Glyndwr as a whole. It is a suspension, not a revocation, but its ability to take on new foreign students is stopped. There is the potential to move to revocation if it is unable to demonstrate that it has put in place systems and processes to guard the immigration system as a whole. We have had discussions with Glyndwr for some time about the investigations and the audit of its records. We will continue to do so, and we will engage with other relevant partners, including the Welsh Government, as necessary.
I of course welcome all that the Government are doing to clamp down on bogus colleges and bogus students. Certainly, we do not need to take any lecture from the Labour party on controlling our borders. I welcome the Minister’s confirmation that the UK is open to genuine students and that there are no limits. Will he ensure that that message is delivered in some of the key markets from which students travel to the UK, because this is an important industry for us and one that is clearly growing?
Absolutely. I can certainly confirm that to my hon. Friend. He makes a number of important points about presentation and how others seek to present a false picture of our immigration system and the important requirements that we have. We can puncture some of the myths that are perpetrated overseas. Ministers visiting those key countries seek to underline that, but we have firm processes and procedures in the visa system for a purpose—to prevent abuse—and that is why steps such as interviews are important safeguards against those who are not legitimate, who are not genuine and who seek to abuse our hospitality.
We clearly all welcome the action against bogus colleges taken by this Government and their predecessor, but is the Minister concerned that, contrary to the Prime Minister’s declared objective to increase international student numbers, for the first time in 29 years bona fide international student numbers are falling and our competitors are benefiting? When will the Minister listen to the recommendations of seven Select Committees of this House and the other place on the action needed to restore our competitive advantage?
The latest report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, published on 10 April, shows a 3% increase in the number of undergraduate entrants between 2012-13 and 2013-14, a 1% increase in postgraduate course entrants and a 5% increase in postgraduate research entrants. We are focusing on ensuring that genuine students are attracted to the UK for study and that we continue to attract the brightest and the best, but it is important also to focus on the substance of what I have said—on ensuring that we are rigorous in our approach to those who seek to exploit our system. I know of the hon. Gentleman’s personal interest in the matter, and I respect his point, but his party appears to want to set an arbitrary growth target, which only risks further abuse.
I congratulate the Minister on an excellent and robust statement that will not spoil the export market for higher education but will ensure its integrity. What additional sanctions, other than suspension or revocation of the special sponsor status, can be deployed against the minority of higher education institutions that have behaved wrongfully?
As I have indicated to the House, we have taken firm and decisive action in relation to a number of the institutions involved. I want to underline the point about responsibility. Many, many universities and academic institutions take their responsibility incredibly seriously. They do the work; they perform the checks, and they keep their records appropriately. The issue is those that do not, and it is right for the Government to take appropriate action in those cases, including referral to regulators, which will also help to ensure that academic standards at those institutions are raised.
I know that for this Government it is all about numbers, and about tracking down all these bogus students, but will they not listen to bodies such as Universities Scotland which are telling them, month after month, about the damage being done to universities in Scotland and the perception that it creates for overseas students, who have options and are using them? What is the point of educating overseas students to such a high standard in our Scottish universities, only to kick them out when they could make such a valuable contribution to our economy and they are welcome in our nation?
I say very clearly to the hon. Gentleman that the point of having a student visa is to study, not automatically to work. The problem is that, too often, people were abusing the student visa system simply to work, not to study, gain an education and make the contribution that he desires. There are postgraduate routes to remain here and study. We need a robust measure to ensure that our systems are not abused. It is the conflation of university education with an automatic right to work that lies behind the mistakes of the Labour Government and the abuses that we are dealing with.
I welcome the balance that my hon. Friend showed in his statement. The number of colleges whose licence is being suspended appears to me to be a small proportion of the overall total. Will the QAA examine all London sub-campuses of universities, such as that of UEA London, to see whether further action should be taken, or does my hon. Friend have specific ones in his sights?
We are speaking to the QAA, as I said in my statement. London campuses have been highlighted, so we have asked the QAA to look at the matter in broad terms to give reassurance. It is important that we do so.
With 48,000 students and scores of institutions affected, this is criminality on a truly industrial scale. I was not clear about the Minister’s response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), so although we welcome the package of stringent measures that he has announced today, can I ask him at what point he and his Department were aware of the issue, bearing in mind the earlier warning signs, and whether the measures have been taken as a response to what we saw in the programme or whether they were already under consideration by his Department? I saw the programme, and I was appalled by the blatant and widespread criminality that was going on.
Action has been taken against colleges that were not meeting their standards. I referred to a number of 400. It has become clear that there was a link to the ETS tests, and we are now able to see the issue from a different perspective. The abuse that was uncovered by the “Panorama” programme provided a different angle, on another route of abuse, which is why we have carefully and rigorously been pursuing all lines of inquiry arising from that—with ETS on validating its data and by looking at the colleges themselves, where further issues had been highlighted. It is right and proper that we have done so, and we will continue to do so in the weeks and months ahead, as further information comes to light and we pursue outstanding lines of inquiry, including the criminal investigation.
I welcome the Minister’s clampdown on the scandal of student visa abuse. Will he name the six countries from which most of the students have come, and will he call the ambassadors from those countries into his office to make it clear to those countries how seriously Her Majesty’s Government takes this issue and ask them what they will do to help the Government combat the problem?
The primary issue is to ensure that there are rigorous measures in place for new applicants coming to this country, with interviews supporting the testing regime, so that we have an additional step to give a sense of reassurance. The point at issue is the student visa system created by the previous Labour Government, and the fact that a number of people who have been identified as being caught up in that sit on the Labour Benches means that a great deal of the responsibility lies there.
I welcome the Minister’s statement. Education visas are worth £10 billion to the economy, and we need to retain that contribution. However, Migration Watch UK says that up to 60% of students do not return to their own country when their visa expires. In 2012 the number was 50,000. What action is the Department taking to deal with those students who seem, at least on paper, to go missing? What contact does he have with the devolved Assemblies, particularly the Northern Ireland Assembly, to address the issue?
One step that we have taken is to create Immigration Enforcement as a separate command within the Home Office, to have that rigorous focus on pursuing those who should not be here. We are also working with the university sector to see how it can continue to play its part in ensuring that students leave at the end of their studies. We will, as part of that, have discussions with the devolved Administrations and others to ensure that we continue the work and have the rigorous system that we all want.
I am proud to represent the university of Kent, Christchurch university and the university for the Creative Arts, with more than 30,000 students in my constituency. I strongly welcome the firm action that my hon. Friend is taking, and I commend to him the point made by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field). It would be helpful if, in our longer term deliberations, we could have detailed figures as to the proportion of students coming to this country to study who return to their own country at the end of that study.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the responsibilities that universities and other academic institutions have within the immigration system. Many of them take those responsibilities very seriously indeed and I commend them for their work. My hon. Friend highlights the need for rigour within the system and the need to ensure that people rightly play their part, and that is what the Government are committed to achieving.
Foreign students are important to the economy of Brighton and Hove. Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking those universities and colleges that have done the right thing, put their house in order and are working with the Government, not against them?
Absolutely; I commend those bodies that take these issues seriously, and there are many that do so. We want a thriving, flourishing sector, and the Government are committed to that. The Home Office is working with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in telegraphing that clear message so that educational institutions are doing their best in representing this country and showing it at its best.
I commend the decisive action that my hon. Friend and his Department are taking in closing down the abuse of the student visa route, which is already significantly reducing overall immigration. Is it not right that we also extend the closing down of abuse to some foreign nationals who are wrongly using the NHS?
I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise the steps that have been put in place through the Immigration Act 2014, and welcome the financial contribution that students and others who will be in this country for a period of time will need to make as part of the visa process. We are focused now on ensuring that that is effectively implemented to deliver what I think my hon. Friends and others across the House will want to see, recognising the contribution that should be made to our NHS from those who are coming to stay here for a period of time.
I am sure that everyone will welcome the identification of the abuse and the plans to eliminate it. The Minister has already said that some genuine students following genuine courses will be caught up in the process. Does he agree that the reputation of this country and our universities and their ability to recruit in the future depend on how genuine students are supported at this very difficult time for them?
I recognise my hon. Friend’s point, which is why in my statement and in some of the answers to questions I have underlined the support that is being provided to students who, through no fault of their own, may have concerns or be affected. We will certainly keep information on gov.uk up to date. The new hotline has opened this afternoon, so students will be able to contact that. As I have said, we will be working with the sector more generally to ensure that support is provided appropriately.
The Minister has suspended the right of the university of Bedfordshire, which has a campus in my constituency, to sponsor foreign students. Will he clarify whether that is because of its involvement with ETS, or because of broader aspects of abuse of student visas? Has he had an opportunity to speak to the vice-chancellor so that he may reassure students throughout the university on valid foreign visas that their studies will not be affected?
We are in regular contact with the university of Bedfordshire. There has been a conversation with the vice-chancellor this morning and a meeting has been arranged either for later today or within the next few days for the precise purpose of assessing the next steps and to see what may be required in relation to reassurance for students. The action taken by the Government has been linked to ETS in terms of the certificates provided that were questionable or incorrectly issued. It is as a result of looking at the records and the way in which that academic institution has been fulfilling its responsibilities as a highly trusted sponsor that we have taken the action today in respect of its inability to take on new students. We will clearly be working with each of the institutions that I have identified in my statement.
I strongly welcome the Minister’s statement today and the action that he has taken, but I echo the words of my hon. Friends the Members for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) and for Reading East (Mr Wilson) in that there is a vibrant community of language colleges in this country that provide great opportunities for many people. I have several in my constituency that I have visited, which have been sidelined and disadvantaged by some of the so-called bogus colleges. Will my hon. Friend consider introducing a hotline to resolve some of the minor administrative errors that occur during genuine applications, so that the main focus can be on bogus colleges and applications?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point about the many institutions that are working hard, meeting their responsibilities and ensuring that they rigorously apply the set standards. It is on those that are not meeting such requirements that additional focus is required. We are considering broader work around the tier 4 student visa system, but I will reflect further on my hon. Friend’s point.
I welcome what the Minister had to say and the work that he is doing. Under the previous Government’s shocking administration of the student visa system, individuals were able to come to this country as a student, register as a student, but never attend an institution while being marked present by that institution. What steps are being taken to address the issue of absence and the failure of records, so that they correctly reflect what has been going on?
Again, my hon. Friend highlights the need for those academic institutions to fulfil their responsibilities and to know that students are attending their courses. It is precisely such measures that our inspectors investigate when they check whether those institutions are meeting their responsibilities. Ultimately, as a highly trusted sponsor, they should know where students are residing and whether they are attending their courses. That is precisely the purpose of the system and why we monitor it in the way that we do.
Last but certainly not least, I call John Glen.
To what extent are London campuses opened by universities based many miles from London simply devices to harbour bogus students, and how can we be sure that we will not see many more bogus students siphoned through those campuses in future?
As my hon. Friend will know from my statement, we have, with the specific universities that I have identified, highlighted the use of campuses. It is why we have brought it to the attention of the QAA, and it is important that it does its work to analyse the situation further and assess the position of those host academic institutions to ensure that appropriate standards are being met.