Government agrees to release details of visa regime

February 10, 2006

The Government this week promised universities more details of its proposed visa reforms, which institutions fear will damage overseas recruitment.

Ministers have agreed to release details of the new points system for visa applications, as proposed in the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill, after intense lobbying by Universities UK on behalf of members who worry that the reforms will deter overseas students.

Baroness Warwick, chief executive of UUK, was told during Tuesday's report stage of the Bill in the House of Lords that details of the points system would be produced before the Bill's third reading. No date has yet been set for the third reading.

The Bill proposes replacing the current system for assessing visa applications with a points system. The Government argues that the points system will be sufficiently objective and robust that there will be no need for an appeals stage, which it intends to abolish.

Universities argue that scrapping the appeals system could mean that many overseas students who might have gained a study visa on appeal would be excluded in future. As a result, UK universities could lose students to international competitors.

Lady Warwick told peers during the debate that under the current system, 34 per cent of initial visa applications were refused on the basis of judgments made by entry clearance officers. But at appeal, she said, a quarter of refusals were overturned and visas were granted.

"In plain English, entry clearance officers get decisions wrong with alarming frequency," Baroness Warwick said.

UUK has argued that it is impossible for universities to assess properly the proposal to scrap appeals because the Government had not spelt out exactly how its points system would work, how points would be allocated and what weightings would be applied to which entry criteria.

"The Government has argued that the new points-based immigration system will solve the problem," Lady Warwick said in the debate.

"It appears, however, that ministers are confident that this will happen overnight because it is clear that the Government intends to remove the right of appeal as soon as the points-based system is in place."

Responding to the Government's decision to release details of the points system, a UUK spokeswoman said: "We are pleased that details are to be published before the third reading."

She said that UUK was waiting to examine the precise nature of the Government's proposals before considering its next move.

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