The Telegraph reports that more than 40,000 extra foreign students were allowed into the UK from just seven countries last year casting new doubt on the effectiveness of the Government’s “tough” new visa system.
Official Home Office figures show 100,000 student visas were granted in the academic year to September 2009 – an increase of almost 40,000 on the previous 12 months.
Critics say the 63 per cent jump – equivalent to filling two universities the size of Oxford – exposes the ease with which students have been able to manipulate the new points-based visa system introduced by the Government last year.
The students come from just seven countries – India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Malaysia and Nigeria.
In February, the Government was forced to suspend student visas in India, Bangladesh and Nepal amid evidence of widespread abuse of the new system and suggestions many of the students were believed to be bogus.
The figures are particularly damaging for Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, as immigration threatens to become a key electoral issue.
The new figures revealed in a parliamentary answer show that 99,932 students successfully applied for visas up until September 2009 – with huge rises in the six months after the new points system was introduced in March. In the previous academic year, 61,247 visas were granted to students from the same seven countries.
Frank Field, the former Labour minister and outspoken critic of his own party’s immigration policy who obtained the figures, said last night: “You cannot get a more clear demonstration that the points system does not work unless you also set a cap.
“What is so strange is you have very intelligent people running these sections in the Home Office but they didn’t see the growing numbers getting visas. I am sure many of them are bogus. If you look at the age profile it is amazing how many people aged 48 from the Indian subcontinent want to do preliminary study for a degree.”
Sources have claimed that consular officials in the Indian sub-Continent were warning Home Office officials about the spike in applications at the end of last year after it became clear the new rules were open to exploitation.
Sir Andrew Green, the former diplomat who runs the anti-immigration think tank MigrationWatch, said: “This blows out of the water government claims about their points-based system being ‘tough’. Most of it is students and that part has got off to a shambolic start.”
He suggested the points-based system had turned the visa process into a ‘box ticking’ exercise that had all but eliminated face-to-face interviews from the application process. Students now knew exactly what they needed to do to gain a visa and were manipulating forms to ensure success.
Sources have told The Sunday Telegraph that consular officials were warning the Government last year of the huge spike – born out by the new figures – but that those fears were ignored until finally in February the system was suspended.
In last week’s first ever election TV debate Gordon Brown said that new measures to ‘tighten the visa system’ would cut the numbers of foreign students coming in by 40,000.
Last year Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said that overseas students were worth over £8 billion to the UK economy.