Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, sketched out Labour’s approach to international student visas during a major speech on immigration policy today.
Ms Cooper criticised the government’s target to reduce net migration, but offered no concrete detail of how Labour would implement its own action to address immigration. As a result, there was no firm plan outlined on international university students.
She gave no comment on the recommendation from five Parliamentary committees that the government withdraw overseas students from the net migrant target, a recommendation rejected by the government.
Ms Cooper said in the speech, delivered at the Institute for Public Policy Research in London, that she had heard immigration concerns from “people who have seen rapid change in their communities” and are “worried they don’t know their neighbours any more”. But she had also heard from “people worried about jobs being lost at the local university because fewer international students have come”.
On the net migrant target, Ms Cooper said the government’s “overall approach to targets is too simplistic – and changes are needed”.
She highlighted the fact that the target does not solely look at immigration, as it includes the outflow of British citizens, which makes up “two thirds of the drop in net migration”. “And it seems a large proportion of the rest is students,” she added. “Yet foreign students bring in investment and jobs to our country – a total of £8bn a year.”
But Ms Cooper pointed out that anything outside the net migration measure was “being ignored – even if it causes serious problems”.
“For example legitimate university students are included in the target even though they bring billions [of pounds] into Britain – and those are being squeezed,” she said.
“Yet student visitor visas aren’t included – and growing abuse in that category is being ignored.”
Ms Cooper said ministers “should be working with universities and local councils to make sure we can sustain more high-skilled graduate students from fast growing economies like China and Brazil”. But she added that “stronger checks are needed on shorter-term student visitor visas” which she said were up by 30,000 a year since the election in 2010.
Student visitors are allowed to come to the UK for six months (or 11 months if they will be studying an English language course).