Home Office ‘wants to work with UK sector on welcoming message’

Immigration minister signals dramatic brightening of departmental tone after May era as new ‘streamlined’ student visa route launches

October 15, 2020
Person in a refugee demonstration London UK holding a banner reading 'With Open Arms'
Source: Alamy

The UK Home Office, seen as hostile to universities’ efforts to increase overseas recruitment in the Theresa May era, wants to work with the nation’s “exceptional quality” higher education sector to extend a “welcoming message across the globe”, according to a minister.

Kevin Foster, minister for future borders and immigration since December 2019, signalled a dramatic brightening of tone in an interview with Times Higher Education after the introduction of a new “Student” route within the visa system, which he said “streamlined” the application process.

While the Boris Johnson government had already indicated that it would take a much more supportive approach to universities’ overseas recruitment efforts than in Ms May’s time as home secretary and prime minister – including reversing her abolition of post-study work visas – questions about the level of support from the Home Office specifically have remained for some in the sector.

But Mr Foster said the department’s aim was to “work closely with the sector and support our ambitions and their ambitions for the UK to be one of the world-leading destinations for international students”.

The new student route, introduced as part of the shift to a post-Brexit points-based immigration system, replaces the Tier 4 route. It took effect for non-European Economic Area nationals on 5 October.

Once freedom of movement with the European Union ends as part of Brexit on 1 January 2021, the new route will also take effect for EEA nationals – who will need visas to study in the UK.

Changes under the new student route include lifting the requirement to show evidence of financial resources for certain categories of visa applicant, removing time limits for those studying at postgraduate level, and opening new ways of meeting English-language requirements.

Mr Foster said he hoped the impact would be to “help the universities themselves reach their own goals in terms of attracting new international students, particularly from key markets such as China, India and Nigeria”.

He added that while the immigration system would “facilitate people coming here”, international students were drawn to the UK by “the exceptional quality we see from our universities”.

As a Home Office minister, was Mr Foster on board with the government’s target in its International Education Strategy to increase overseas student numbers in the UK?

“We’re here to help facilitate the UK government’s goal overall in its [international] higher education strategy and very keen to work with the sector,” he replied. “Some of the changes we’re making around the student route are very driven by working with the sector.”

He added that “10 years ago we did have to deal with the then student routes being very wide open to abuse” by those seeking to work rather than study in the UK. But having “done some great work with the sector in recent years”, the UK has “now got a [student] route that is very compliant, that brings some amazingly talented people to the UK, and we can really work with [universities] to extend that welcoming message across the globe”, he continued.

Mr Foster said the Home Office would “continue working with the sector as [institutions] emerge from Covid-19 and look to attract more people here to the UK”.

There are countries “where the routes are not open” for international students, “the travel opportunity is not there” during the pandemic, the minister continued.

“Generally, our routes are open. That’s a big message at the moment,” he added.

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Minister wants to help sector set out welcome mat

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