The number of visas granted to students from outside the EU is to be cut in a crackdown on “abuses of the system”, UK Home Secretary Alan Johnson told the BBC this morning.
Mr Johnson said tougher rules would require applicants to speak English to near-GCSE level and ban those on short UK courses from bringing dependants.
He said the revised rules were targeted at those who came to the UK “primarily for work”.
The Home Office would not confirm reports the changes may cut visas issued this year by tens of thousands. The exact details of rule changes have yet to be published on the Home Office website.
A spokesman said the review of student visas had been ordered in November. In 2008/9, about 240,000 student visas were issued by the UK.
News of the measures, which will not require legislation and will be introduced within weeks, comes a week after student visa applications from Nepal, northern India and Bangladesh were suspended amid a big rise in cases.
Last year the UK introduced a system requiring students wishing to enter the country to secure 40 points under its points-based Tier 4 criteria.
However, the government has faced criticism that this has allowed suspected terrorists and other would-be immigrants into the UK, only for them to stay on despite their visas being temporary.
In a statement, Mr Johnson said he made “no apologies for strengthening an already robust system”.
He added: “We created our points-based system so that we could respond quickly to changing circumstances, when necessary, to raise the bar students have to meet to come to the UK.
“We remain open to those foreign students who want to come to the UK for legitimate study – they remain welcome.
“But those who are not seriously interested in coming here to study but come primarily to work – they should be in no doubt that we will come down hard on those that flout the rules.”
Under the measures:
• Successful applicants from outside the EU will have to speak English to a level only just below GCSE standard, rather than beginner level as at present.
• Students taking courses below degree level will be allowed to work for only 10 hours a week, instead of 20 as at present.
• Those on courses which last under six months will not be allowed to bring dependants into the country, while the dependants of students on courses below degree level will not be allowed to work.
• Additionally, visas for courses below degree level will also be granted only if the institutions they attend are on a new register, the Highly Trusted Sponsors List.
Last weekend it emerged the UK Border Agency had temporarily suspended student visa applications from northern India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Officials said they were acting after the system had been overwhelmed and concerns had been raised that many cases were not genuine.
Immigration Matters Comment
Little detail has been revealed in this latest clampdown on immigration.
For instance, whether or not the new rules will apply to existing student visa holders or just new entrants.
Mr Johnson has also not explained how these new restrictions will reduce the threat of terrorism. Most students turned terrorist were studying at Uniersities, which will be largely unaffected by the changes.
International student are worth £8 billion to the UK economy and the private educational sector employs many thousands of British workers.