The number of foreign, non-EU students currently being let into the UK is “unsustainable”, Immigration Minister Damian Green will announce today the BBC has reported.
News agencies have been briefed on a speech the minister will deliver later, in which he will question whether Britain is attracting the best students – with only half of student visas issued for university courses.
Mr Green’s comments come as Home Office research suggests one-fifth of students were still in the UK five years after being granted student visas.
The Home Office study tracked non-EU migrants who came to the UK in 2004.
But the BBC said the National Union of Students dismissed Mr Green’s comments as a “misinterpretation” of the facts.
The largest group – some 185,000 people – were students, and 21% were still in the country five years later.
BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw says this, together with an increasing number of new overseas students, has led Mr Green to make reform of the student immigration route a priority.
Ministers also intend to examine work visas as two-fifths of people in this group remained in the UK after five years.
Ahead of his speech, Mr Green said: “We can’t assume that everyone coming here has skills the UK workforce cannot offer.”
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I don’t want to interfere with the success stories of our universities.”
But he said there was a need to examine closely sub-degree courses and the reasons for students remaining in the UK.
Mr Green said: “Why are they staying on? What are they staying on to do? This is part of a wider look we need to take at the immigration system.”
Office for National Statistics figures released last month showed net migration to the UK increased by 33,000 to 196,000 in 2009.
The number of visas issued to students went up by 35% to 362,015.
Mr Green said the figures were proof the coalition government had inherited an immigration system “largely out of control”.
“What these figures tell me is that we also need to look at all the other routes [aside from employment] by which people come into this country, maybe for education, for family reunion reasons and also, in particular, routes that lead to permanent settlement,” he said.
Source: BBC News
Sarah Mulley, a senior research fellow at leading think tank ippr said reducing the numbers of student visas will have little effect on long term immigration figures:
‘Although rising foreign student numbers increase net migration figures in the short term, most student migration is temporary, so it’s not clear what the impact is in the longer term.
‘The relatively low proportion of foreign students settling in the UK means that it will be difficult for the Government to reduce net migration in the medium-long term by reducing the number of student visas that it issues.’
The government rightly wants to ensure that Britain attracts genuine overseas students, which are worth £8 billion to the UK economy.
The Tier 4 points based system relaxed the entry requirements for students when it was introduced in 2009 by the former Labour government, taking much of the decision making powers away from Entry Clearance Officers in British Embassy visa sections.
However, the points system does allow the Home Office to quickly adjust the criteria or raise the bar to entry as a student under tier 4, as in the case of changes made by the Labour government earlier this year just before the general election.
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