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Theresa May to announce crackdown on bogus student visas

By Jonathan Isaby

Theresa May Despatch Box 2011 Home Secretary Theresa May writes for The Sun this morning about her department's latest attempt to "crack down on immigration" after the Labour Government bequeathed a system that was out of control.

She has already introduced a cap on non-EU migrants coming to work in the UK and in due course there will be a clamp down on sham marriages and a breaking of the link between temporary migration and permanent settlement.

But today it is dubious student visas which she has in her sights.

She tells Sun readers:

"The majority of non-EU migrants are in fact students. Their numbers are now far larger than those coming for work or through family. So we must take action. Today in Parliament I will announce proposals which will slash the number of student visas issued each year by up to 80,000 – that's between 20 and 25 per cent of the total. Since we came into office, we have been investigating the rampant abuse of student visas that we saw under Labour."

She promises to "root out the bogus colleges offering sham courses" and adds:

"We will also stop the fake students from coming. We need a system where only the very brightest and the best can come to Britain. If they are coming here to study then they should be studying, not working They should be going to universities or proper colleges, not backstreet diploma factories that, far from selling an education, are actually selling a visa to Britain. And they should be going home at the end of their courses."

However, the FT (£) reports this morning that the Home Office proposals have been tempered after lobbying by the higher Education Sector and ministers at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, among others:

"The higher education sector has mounted a vigorous lobbying campaign against some of the proposals, warning they would damage Britain’s world-leading research universities and cut off vital funding. Their argument gained the tacit backing of Vince Cable, business secretary, and David Willetts, universities minister. “Higher and further education is a major success story for the British economy,” Mr Cable told the Financial Times last week. “It’s an export industry – we want to grow it.” MPs on the Commons home affairs committee have warned that the crackdown on student visas could “cripple the education sector” if done on the basis of flawed evidence."

Theresa May will present her specific proposals to the Commons this afternoon in an oral statement expected at 3.30pm.

4pm update:

The measures have just been announced by Theresa May in the Commons as follows:

  • From April 2012 all institutions wanting to sponsor students will have to be classed as Highly Trusted Sponsors and become accredited by statutory education inspection bodies by the end of 2012 (the current system does not require this and allowed too many poor quality colleges into the system);
  • Those coming to study at degree level will have to speak English at an upper intermediate (B2) level (this is higher that the current B1 requirement);
  • UK Border Agency staff will be able to refuse entry to students who cannot speak English without an interpreter and who therefore patently do not meet the required minimum standards;
  • Students at universities and publicly funded further education colleges will retain current work rights but all other students will have no right to work, and restrictions will be placed on work placements at courses outside of universities;
  • Only postgraduate students at universities and government sponsored students will be allowed to bring their dependants (at the moment all students on longer courses are able to bring dependants);
  • The overall time that can be spent on a student visa will be limited to three years at lower levels, as now, and five years at higher levels (at present there is no limit for study at or above degree level); 
  • Closure of the Post Study Work route, which allowed students two years to seek employment after their course ended. Only those graduates who have an offer of a skilled job from a sponsoring employer, in Tier 2 of the Points-Based System, will be able to stay to work.


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