May comes out fighting on student visas

The Home Secretary has pledged to introduce interviews for 100,000 more international students to root out visa abuse, and warned universities that they will lose their licences to recruit foreign students if they fail to meet standards.

December 12, 2012

Theresa May had tough words for universities in a speech on immigration at the Policy Exchange thinktank today, saying it was a "misconception" that government policy on student visas is "damaging Britain's universities".

The speech formed another skirmish in the battle between ministers in the Home Office, who want to cut student visas as part of plans to reduce net migration to the "tens of thousands", and in the Department for Business and Innovation and Skills, who fear the policy is damaging UK universities overseas.

Ms May showed no sign of altering her stance following criticism of the decision in August to revoke London Metropolitan University's licence to sponsor non-EU students.

"We will continue to monitor strictly the adherence of universities as well as colleges to our rules that make sure only legitimate students come here," she said.

"Where universities don't meet those standards, we maintain the power to suspend highly-trusted status, as we did with the Teesside University and Glasgow Caledonian University, and even where appropriate to revoke a university's right to sponsor foreign students, as we did earlier this year with London Metropolitan University."

Ms May also announced that from today, the government will "extend radically" the UK Border Agency's scheme of interviews for student visa applicants from non-EU countries, which started last year with 2,300 interviews for applicants from Pakistan.

"Starting with the highest-risk countries, and focusing on the route to Britain that is widely abused - student visas - we will increase the number of interviews to considerably more than 100,000 starting [in the] next financial year.

"From there, we will extend the interviewing programme further across all routes to Britain, wherever the evidence takes us," she said.

In more encouraging news for universities, Ms May also announced that all PhD students will be allowed to stay in the UK for 12 months after the completion of their course to find a job or start a business.

Daniel Stevens, the National Union of Students international officer, said Ms May had "already done huge damage to the UK's reputation and now seems determined to demonstrate that the UK is closed for business by treating those who want to study here with further suspicion and hostility".

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