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Covid-19: English Language Testing

Volume 674: debated on Monday 23 March 2020

7. What plans she has to review the English language testing requirement for student visas as a result of the closure of overseas language test centres in response to the covid-19 outbreak. (901683)

These are extraordinary times, and we are working hard to ensure that no foreign students are penalised unfairly by these events. We recognise the concerns of the education sector about the impact of covid-19, and we are working with it to mitigate the adverse consequences. We are also working closely with secure English language test providers to ensure that there is sufficient capacity for all those who need to take tests while prioritising the health and safety of staff and applicants.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Clearly my question was tabled before we hit the mission-critical phase of our actions to combat the virus, and of course it feels rather discordant to talk today about international travel when we are talking self-isolation and social distancing. But below that there is another really important message: we will come through this, we will rally and we will rebuild. So can the Minister say what measures are being taken to expedite the process for international students coming to our universities in particular, because it is so vital in towns such as Eastbourne and across the country?

I recognise the comments my hon. Friend makes, and as she says, at the moment it seems strange to be talking about international travel when we are rightly advising against all non-essential travel within the United Kingdom, let alone abroad. We are very clear that no one will have a negative outcome through the immigration system due to a circumstance that was beyond their control. We have already done a block extension of visas for Chinese nationals, and we are looking at further measures that we can take—for example, allowing in-country switching that we would not normally allow—to ensure that no one is penalised because they followed the advice and did what they could to protect our NHS and save lives.