UK Prime Minister David Cameron will next week visit India to tell prospective students that Britain will be “incredibly welcoming” to them if they come to this country to study and work, the Telegraph reports.
But perhaps should pass the message on to the UK Border Agency and the Entry Clearance Officers (ECO’s) who are refusing student visas in India left, right and centre, and rejecting visa extensions in the UK for the slightest reason.
One college director told Immigration Matters that dozens of his prospective students from India and Pakistan were being refused visas because they ‘could not speak English’, despite holding a valid English Language IELTS certificate from an approved testing centre.
The refusals led to his licence being suspended because the college refusal rate had exceeded the allowable level, which of course is set by and controlled by the UK Border Agency.
The Telegraph comments that as Mr Cameron promises voters to slash immigration and student numbers, and deter the arrival of people from countries like Bulgaria and Romania, he will use his trip to try to persuade more Indians to come to Britain.
UK university leaders, MP’s and business groups say the Government’s tough rhetoric on immigration and so called ‘bogus’ students is damaging Britain’s international competitiveness, concerns that are privately shared by some ministers.
Student and their agents in India are turning their attention to countries like Australia and Canada, after the first choice option of the US, which appears to welcome foreign students by offering a smoother route to working after studying as well as the opportunity of gaining permanent residence.
Meanwhile, the UK has abolished the popular Post Study Work Visa (PSW) and has raised the bar on employers wishing to take on foreign workers under Tier 2.
Official figures released this year showed that the number of Indians studying at British universities fell by 25% last year, to 30,000.
In an interview with India’s Sunrise TV before his trip, Mr Cameron said he wanted to make sure that Indians are not put off coming to the UK.
“The fact is today, as we stand, and this is going to be the case going forward, there is no limit on the number of students who can come from India to study at British universities, no limit at all,” he said.
“All you need is a basic English qualification and a place at a British university. And what’s more, after you’ve left a British university, if you can get a graduate-level job there is no limit to the amount of people who can stay and work, or the time that they can stay at work.”
It’s all very well to say “get a graduate-level job”, but that’s not easy for any student just out of university, let alone a foreign student. Most graduates have to start off near the bottom of an organisation, sometimes on a lot less than £20,000pa, and work their way up.
The pro-Indian student rhetoric does not match the Government’s policies, under which foreign students are included in the targets to cut the number of immigrants coming into the country by hundreds of thousands.
The Government has set an annual cap on the number of non-Europeans who can come to work in the UK under Tier 2 of the points based system, in addition to making it virtually impossible to get a working visa for anyone lower than a managing director, and the Conservatives have promised to reduced net immigration to “tens of thousands” by 2015.
Although there are annual limits on various groups of workers who are allowed into the UK, a change in the cap made last year means that there is no ceiling on the number of foreign graduates of British universities who can work here.
Immigration Rules state that only foreign graduates earning at least £20,000 are permitted to stay in the UK. UKBA officials insisted Mr Cameron’s words did not mark a change in that policy.
Some ministers privately worry that the Coalition has failed to explain its policies properly, something the Home Office has angrily denied.
However, Mr Cameron admitted that ministers have not been clear about immigration, saying: “I think we haven’t perhaps communicated this properly.”
He added: “Now we need to take that message out to talented young people in India and say if you want to make that choice, Britain will be incredibly welcoming. Of course we have to control immigration in all its forms, as any country would, but actually Britain’s got an amazing offer to make to students.
The Higher Education Statistics Authority says there were 29,900 Indian students in the UK in 2011/12, down from 39,090 the previous year.
That’s 9000 less students (from just one country), which multiplied by a typical university fee of £9500 means British universities lost £85,000,000 for the first years fees and a total of £265 million for the full three year term.
The UK lost at least the same amount which would have been spent in living costs, which puts the total LOSS to UK PLC from Indian students at over £500 million or half a billion pounds.
No wonder the country is struggling to get out of recession.
Mr Cameron said: “We have 40,000 Indian students in Britain, I’m really proud of that, but the offer we’ve got – no limit on the numbers, no limit on how you can work in graduate jobs afterwards – I think is a great offer to make.”
Hundreds of Indian students whose college has been closed down have been unable to move to a new institution due to visa and financial restrictions.
Having just lost most of their money, they are unable to meet the financial requirements – all over again – in order to apply for a NEW visa (despite the fact that they are already in the UK on a student visa) and cannot transfer to another college or university.
The UK Border Agency simply wants them to leave the country and take their business elsewhere, but many have lost everything and cannot go home in shame empty handed.
The only choice for some overseas students is to overstay their student visas and try to recover some of the lost money by working illegally.
The Prime Minister’s message to prospective Indian arrivals in the UK also contrasts with his stance on immigration from our eastern European partners. Romanians and Bulgarians will be able to work freely in the UK next year, but some Conservatives fear a mass migration of new workers.
Mr Cameron earlier told MPs that British public services and benefits are too easily available to such immigrants, promising a tougher approach.
He said: “There are many parts of our current arrangements which simply don’t pass a simple common sense test in terms of access to housing, access to the health service, access to justice and other things which should be the right of all British citizens but are not the right of anyone who just chooses to come here.”
In order dissuade Bulgarians and Romanians from coming to the UK, ministers are considering ways to restrict access to services like the NHS, social security and public housing, which will be difficult when their hands are tied by EU laws.
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