Education and overseas student campaigners have taken heart from signs the government may water down its new proposed student visa regime, Politics.co.uk reports today.
Universities minister David Willetts told a home affairs select committee last week there were “grey areas” and “fuzzy boundaries” to be investigated.
In particular, he said the rules governing dependants and the post-study work route were still under discussion.
“These are the absolutely grey areas that we identified in the consultation document and are now considering with the Home Office,” Mr Willetts said.
“Bringing in dependants, that can increase the migration figures and they’re not coming here to study. To what extent does people’s ability to bring in dependants affect their own willingness to come to study?”
Asked whether the post-study visa work route should be abolished, Mr Willetts said it was a feature of UK higher education and part of the “fuzzy boundary”.
“It is a feature, but there may be ways in which we can tighten it up or make sure that it’s not abused or not becoming a route to settlement,” he said.
“There are a whole range of options between complete closure of the route and the status quo.
“There are certainly universities that tell us very clearly that if they were completely to lose the post-study work option that would put them at a disadvantage.”
‘Students would choose to study elsewhere if the government scrapped post-study work’ Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group
University and student groups responded cautiously to Mr Willetts’ comments.
University and Colleges Union general secretary Sally Hunt said it was “encouraging”, but claimed the coalition were pursuing “knee-jerk populist immigration policies”.
“UK higher education is suffering from enormous cuts and the last thing we need are knee-jerk populist immigration policies that risk further damage to our universities,” she said.
“Although it is encouraging to hear a minister acknowledge that government policy may do some damage, we have a long way to go before anything this government is doing to higher education could be considered welcomed.”
Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, said students would choose to study elsewhere if the government scrapped post-study work.
“The government should consider changes to post-study work visas very carefully,” she said.
“If we do not offer international UK university graduates the opportunity to work for a short period in highly skilled jobs, some of the world’s brightest students will choose to study elsewhere.”
NUS president Aaron Porter urged ministers to further rethink their overall approach to international students.
“Most international students leave the UK after their studies finish taking with them links that can form into global business partnerships in the future,” he said.
“Those that stay go into highly skilled work and research and contribute to the UK economy.
“There must be an urgent rethink of this policy to ensure our students and universities do not suffer because of a knee-jerk ideological reaction to international students.”
Mr Willetts’ comments offered a much softer line than that taken last month by immigration minister Damian Green.
Mr Green argued the student visa system was subject to “widespread” abuse and said the government would limit the number of dependants and the right to work.
“There will be a greater emphasis on quality and we shall drive abuse out of the system,” he said.
“The primary objective of studying in the UK must be to study, not to work or to acquire long-term residency status.”
The coalition has pledged to reduce net migration from “hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands” by 2015.
With two-thirds of non-EU migrants entering the UK on student visas, tightening the system is a key part of the strategy.
The Home Office said the government would make an announcement “in due course”.
“This government wants to ensure that the primary reason for those who enter on a student visa is genuinely to come here to study. We are working closely with the Department for Business and will make an announcement in due course,” a spokesperson said. Source: Politics.co.uk.
The government need to listen to the voices of reason. Overseas, non-EU students:
- Pay for their studies at the full rate
- Do not claim benefits
- Rent properties and buy goods and services
- Pay taxes on what they earn from part time work
- Keep thousands of British people in work
Last month in its article, ‘The student system ain’t broke’, the Economist joined a host of other commentators in warning that plans to discourage foreign students threaten a successful British business.
In their recent blog, A Study in Stupidity, the JCWI said that “education and training exports represent the second biggest contributor to the UK’s net balance of payments. They are, according to the Financial Times, worth £40 billion”.
Can the UK afford to throw away £40 billion worth of business at a time of savage spending cuts and rising jobs loses?
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