Student visas were used so extensively by Indians to gain the right to work in the UK that they became known as “marriage dowries”, the head of migration policy at the Home Office has said.
At a conference in London on 22 January, Glyn Williams argued that the visa route had become a “vehicle for abuse” before the government tightened the rules.
“In India, UK student visas became known as the ‘marriage dowry’ because female Indian students were able to bring over their partners to work in the UK,” he said.
The coalition’s introduction of “educational oversight”, its inspection regime for institutions looking to sponsor international students, had resulted in around 500 private colleges withdrawing from the system, Mr Williams added.
“This action would have been taken by any government,” he told the conference, Improving the International Student Experience.
His comments come after figures released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency earlier this month showed a 24 per cent drop in the number of Indian students attending UK universities in 2011-12.
But the overall number of overseas students grew slightly because of a rise in the number of entrants from China.
Mr Williams said that the prospect of working in the UK was a greater draw for Indian students than for their Chinese peers.
He also tried to strike a more conciliatory tone with the sector and said that there would now be a period of “policy stability” in relation to international students.
But he warned that this would have to be a “two-way street”.
“Hardly a week goes by when I don’t open a newspaper…and find some attack has been launched on an aspect of the government’s migration policy. I think people need to reflect on whether that’s a productive use of their time,” he said.
Asked about the revocation in August 2012 of London Metropolitan University’s licence to sponsor international students, Mr Williams said that “lessons can be learned on both sides in terms of the way these things are managed”.