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Thousands of overseas students to face compulsory interviews

Thousands of overseas students to face compulsory interviews

guardian.co.uk |by Alan Travis on July 8, 2012

UK Border Agency office

The interviews form part of a new UK Border Agency drive to filter out abuse. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian

More than 10,000 overseas students who apply for visas to study in Britain are to face compulsory interview tests as part of a new UK Border Agency drive to filter out abuse.

UKBA staff are to be given a new power to refuse entry to any overseas students whose credibility remains in doubt after being interviewed. Those who fail to turn up for the interview will also be refused entry to Britain if they fail to give a reasonable explanation.

The decision to tighten the regime for overseas students comes as David Cameron is reportedly considering changing tack and removing foreign students from the official net migration count, after mounting fears that the government’s approach is damaging the £8bn-a-year industry.

The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show that net migration to Britain remains at a record high of more than 250,000 a year. Ministers have pledged to reduce that figure to below 100,000 by the time of the next election.

Coming to study is the most common reason given by those who migrate to Britain, and overseas student migration forms the largest component in the annual net migration figure.

The immigration minister, Damian Green, has rejected the universities’ argument that students are not migrants and should be excluded as “fiddling the figures”, but according to the Sunday Times report, Cameron now accepts that there is a risk that overseas students are turning their backs on Britain.

“The prime minister understands these arguments and is definitely considering a change of policy,” it reports.

The targeted overseas student interview programme, which is due to start on 30 July , will result in 10,000 to 14,000 applicants for student visas interviewed each year – about 5% of those who apply to come to Britain from outside Europe.

The programme follows a pilot scheme run last year under which more than 2,300  students visa applicants from 47 countries were interviewed at 13 overseas posts by consular officials.

UKBA officials turned down 17% of the applications on existing grounds, such as not having basic conversational English. But they said they could have potentially refused a further 32% of those interviewed on the grounds that their credibility as genuine students was in doubt, if they had had the power.

The Home Office says the highest levels of would-be refusals on credibility grounds were found among applicants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Burma, Nigeria and the Philippines. It is expected that the interview programme will be targeted on those who apply for student visas from those countries.

Green said: “With more interviews and greater powers to refuse bogus students we will weed out abuse and protect the UK from those looking to play the system.

“Under the current system UK Border Agency officers are unable to refuse some applications even if they have serious concerns over the credibility of the student. We are toughening up the system to keep out the fraudulent and unqualified while ensuring genuine students benefit from our country’s excellent education sector.”

The immigration minister said while Britain would remain open to the “brightest and best” the message was clear: “If you lie on your application form or try to hide your true motivation for coming to the UK then you will be found out and refused a visa.”

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Minister rejects claim that immigration curbs will damage higher education

Minister rejects claim that immigration curbs will damage higher education

guardian.co.uk |by Hélène Mulholland

  • Hélène Mulholland, political reporter
  • guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 30 May 2012 05.44 EDT
Students in a common room

Britain attracts around one in 10 foreign undergraduates and postgraduates who study outside their home country. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

The government has rejected claims that the crackdown on immigration risks deterring legitimate foreign students and losing the British economy billions of pounds a year.

A letter to the prime minister, David Cameron, signed by 68 university chancellors, governors and presidents, urges the government to take foreign students out of net immigration counts amid fears that toughening up the rules on student visas may drive applicants towards institutions in other countries.

They urge ministers to class foreign students as temporary rather than permanent migrants.

Signatories to the letter include the former Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell, who is chancellor of St Andrews University, as well as the broadcaster Lord Bragg, chancellor of the University of Leeds. They also include former Conservative minister Virginia Bottomley, chancellor of the University of Hull, and Patrick Stewart, chancellor of the University of Huddersfield.

The letter – circulated by Universities UK (UUK) –says Britain attracts around one in 10 foreign undergraduates and postgraduates who study outside their home country, according to the Daily Telegraph.

This generates around £8bn a year for the UK in tuition fees and other investment, it is claimed, with the total expected to more than double by 2025.

But UUK told the Telegraph that many risked being pushed towards other countries such as the US, Australia, Canada and Germany.

The immigration minister, Damian Green, said the Office for National Statistics was responsible for producing net migration figures, which were based on an internationally agreed definition of a migrant – someone entering the country for more than a year.

Green insisted the policy did not stop genuine students coming to the UK but said the government was “determined to prevent the abuse of student visas as part of our plans to get net migration down to the tens of thousands”.

“Public confidence in statistics will not be enhanced by revising the way the net migration numbers are presented by removing students,” he said.

Home Office research conducted in 2010 showed 20% of students who came in 2004 remained in the UK five years later.

Green said: “When we announced our full raft of changes to the student visa route, Universities UK said that the proposals ‘will allow British universities to remain at the forefront of international student recruitment’.

“Students coming to the UK for over a year are not visitors– numbers affect communities, public services and infrastructure.”

The letter states: “In this Olympic year, when our universities will be hosting athletics teams and media from across the globe, we urge you to send a clear message that genuine international students are also welcome in, and valued by, the United Kingdom.”

Home Office ministers have introduced a wide range of curbs on the 400,000 overseas students who come to Britain each year to study as part of their drive to reduce annual net migration from its current level of 240,000 a year to below 100,000 by the time of the 2015 general election.

The changes to the student visa system place a limit on the number of years non-European Union students can spend studying and restrict the number of hours of paid work they can do during and after their degrees.

In addition, they are no longer allowed to bring their spouses or children with them unless they are enrolled on a postgraduate course that lasts more than a year.

They claim some universities have already seen the number of applications from India drop by a third this year.

Nicola Dandridge, the UUK chief executive, told the Telegraph the “cumulative effect of all these changes is to present a picture of the UK as not welcoming international students”.

“As competitor countries start to introduce visa changes to attract more international students and academics, we have real concerns about the situation in the long term,” she said.

“Although the UK continues to have one of the strongest higher education systems in the world, in recent years, we have already started losing market share in the face of growing competition globally.

“The reality is that countries such as the US and Australia are taking active steps to encourage international students and are communicating a very different message … It is clear that international students at universities should not be treated as permanent migrants, since the vast majority of them leave the UK at the end of their studies.”

A report by the Institute of Public Policy Research publishedearlier this month said the refusal to exclude international students from the government’s drive to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands was damaging British education and putting at risk £4bn to £6bn a year in benefits to the UK economy.

Up To 50,000 Migrants ‘Exploited Student Visa Flaw To Work In UK’

Up To 50,000 Migrants ‘Exploited Student Visa Flaw To Work In UK’

BBC |March 27, 2012

Up to 50,000 migrants may have exploited flaws in a new student visa system in its first year to come and work in the UK, a report by Whitehall’s spending watchdog says.

Under a system introduced in 2009, each student must be sponsored by a licensed college and cannot change institution without gaining permission.

But “key controls” had not been put in place, the National Audit Office found.

The Home Office said “tough new rules” were cutting student visa numbers.

Under the previous system, there was no limit on the number of non-European Economic Area students a college could enrol and students were free to move college and course without notifying the UK Border Agency.

The replacement, brought in by the Labour government, states that each student must be sponsored by educational institutions licensed by the agency and cannot change college without applying to it.

‘Low priority’

Colleges are responsible for judging people’s intentions to study.

But the audit office said the system had been brought in “before the key controls were in place” and that “in its first year of operation, between 40,000 and 50,000 individuals may have entered the UK… to work rather than to study.”

It added: “The agency did not check that those who entered the UK as students were attending college.”

The report continued: “The agency has taken little action to prevent and detect students overstaying or working in breach of their visa conditions because the agency regards them as low-priority compared to illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers.”

The agency has removed 2,700 students since 1 April 2009, but the audit office said it had “been slow to withdraw students’ leave to remain in the UK, where it has cause to do so”.

“This has meant that, in many cases, enforcement teams have been unable to arrest students found working and not attending college.”

Addresses for almost a fifth of more than 800 migrants wanted by the agency were found in just one week at a cost of £3,000 by a contractor hired by the watchdog.

Amyas Morse, head of the audit office, said the flaws in the student visa system had been “both predictable and avoidable”.

He added: “Action planned by the agency to ensure that those with no right to remain in the UK are identified and required to leave must now be pursued more vigorously.”

‘Beginning to bite’

Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who chairs the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said: “This is one of the most shocking reports of poor management leading to abuse that I have seen.

“The agency needs to get a grip and fix the way it deals with student visas.”

But immigration minister Damian Green said: “This government has introduced radical reforms in order to stamp out abuse and restore order to the uncontrolled student visa system we inherited.

“These include tough new rules on English language, working rights and dependants to ensure only legitimate students come to the UK. New restrictions on post-study work mean that all but the very best will return home after study.”

He added: “These measures are beginning to bite, we have already seen the number of student visas issued drop considerably in the second half of 2011, compared to the same period in 2010.”

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK which represents vice-chancellors, said “good progress” had been made tightening up the system, but there was evidence that legitimate students were being deterred from applying.

“There are some very significant dips, particularly from the Indian sub-continent, where there appears to have been a very negative message which is going out, which is that genuine students are not particularly welcome in Britain and that’s what we’re really concerned about,” she told the BBC.

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the Migration Watch UK campaign group, called on the government to reintroduce interviews for all prospective students “to weed out bogus applicants before they come to Britain, as the Americans and Australians are already doing”.

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