English language schools are planning a legal challenge against the Home Office over fears that the UK will lose thousands of jobs and £400m in income through tighter visa regulations this year, the Guardian reports.
English UK, the body that represents most language schools, says it will seek a judicial review of home secretary Alan Johnson’s decision to prevent students with only beginner’s English from entering Britain for English language courses.
The regulations, announced last month, were in response to concerns about illegal immigration and radicalisation of students at UK institutions following the bombing attempt on a US-bound aircraft on Christmas Day by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a British-educated Nigerian.
Announcing the rules, Johnson said they would also prevent scams involving applications from women “who had long ceased education” trying to bring dependent husbands into the country.
The clampdown coincides with sharp cuts to university funding. Vice-chancellors have also warned that a decision in January to suspend student visa applications from large parts of the Indian subcontinent because of suspected abuse of the rules has affected enrolment numbers.
English UK, which represents 440 schools and colleges, describes the government’s insistence that those who come to learn English must already be competent in the language as “an absurdity”. The association says the home secretary has acted unlawfully because he has not brought the changes before parliament.
The schools claim as many as 100,000 students will be deterred from entering the UK, that £400m in income and 3,400 teaching jobs will be lost, and a further £1bn forfeited in university fees because higher education institutions recruit as many as 70% of their students from among those already studying English language and foundation courses in the UK.
Such an impact would not justify the rule change, lawyers for English UK contend. Making language colleges in effect part of the government’s immigration control machinery is also illegal, they say.
“It’s clearly absurd requiring students to know English before they come here to study it,” said Tony Milns, chief executive of English UK, “We are already seeing evidence from agents, who book students onto courses, that they are saying the UK doesn’t want students any more.”
Many English language schools are based on the south coast, particularly in Brighton and Bournemouth. Others are in Oxford, Cambridge and London. Students come from countries such as South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Turkey, Japan, Venezuela and Vietnam.
Milns said his association would suspend its legal action if the government backed down and reconsiderede.
A Home Office spokesman said: “These changes were made in the best interests of the UK and we will robustly defend them in court if necessary. The new rules will ensure those who come to the UK to study English are genuine students and are not exploiting the system to work illegally.
“Raising the level of English means students must demonstrate a commitment to learning English before they come. We welcome international students but there should be no doubt that we will come down hard on those who flout the rules.”Mark Lindsay, managing director of St Giles International, an English language college with sites around the UK, said: “With a forthcoming general election in mind, the government wants to be seen as ‘tough on immigration’. This is a sledgehammer to crack a nut and will exacerbate already severe problems of unemployment in the UK.”
He added: “The UK Border Agency has been encouraged by the government to clamp down on ‘bogus colleges’. But a number of wrongly accused colleges had recently had their accreditation restored.” Source: The Guardian