Backbenchers push Sunak to go further on cutting student visas

‘New Conservatives’ want to axe post-study work visas and stop ‘poorest performing’ universities from recruiting overseas

July 3, 2023
Conservative Club building
Source: iStock

A group of backbench Conservative MPs is putting pressure on Rishi Sunak to further reduce immigration tied to the UK’s higher education sector.

The “New Conservatives”, a group of “Red Wall” parliamentarians, published a report on 3 July which calls on the prime minister to take action to drastically reduce immigration, arguing that this is key to fulfilling the promises made in the party’s 2019 manifesto.

The report, by Ipswich MP Tom Hunt, says that international students should be barred from attending the “poorest performing universities”, that post-study work visas should be scrapped, and that new restrictions on the students who can bring dependants with them to the UK should be extended.

“Our immigration policy should not be used to prop up the finances of underperforming universities. As the home secretary has previously observed, allowing international students to bring in ‘family members who can piggyback on to their student visa’ aids ‘propping up, frankly, substandard courses in inadequate institutions’,” the report says.

“More needs to be done to ensure universities are fit for purpose and that international students receive an education that warrants the high prices they are charged.”

The government’s most recent step in this area was the May announcement that international students will be barred from bringing family members to the UK from January 2024, unless they are on postgraduate research courses.

The New Conservatives report says that the ban should be extended to cover one-year research master’s courses.

In making the May announcement, home secretary Suella Braverman stopped short of restricting post-study work visas, an area where some ministers were reportedly keen on action.

The New Conservatives report says that this “graduate route”, which allows students to stay in the UK to look for work for two years after finishing their degrees, should be closed altogether, noting that high-performing students should not need to spend several years looking for a job.

The report also notes an increase in the number of international students attending non-Russell Group universities in recent years, so that they now make up 62 per cent of all study visas.

“A study visa that is blind to the rigour of university courses is also blind to the earning potential, or even employability, of graduates who can then go on to apply for graduate work visas,” warns the report, which recommends that visas should be reserved “for the brightest international students by excluding the poorest performing universities from eligibility criteria”.

The report suggests this could be achieved by barring the “poorest performing quartile” of universities outside the Russell Group from being able to sponsor visas.

The report suggests that, collectively, its reforms to student visas could cut net migration by about 172,000 each year. In 2022 long-term international migration stood at 606,000.

“The British public voted for a strong approach to migration. They did not vote for mass migration and the social and economic harms it brings,” the report says.

Penistone and Stocksbridge MP Miriam Cates and Devizes MP Danny Kruger are reported to be the principal organisers of the New Conservatives initiative.

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