Student visas: new immigration minister ups the ante

The government’s new immigration minister has threatened to make it tougher for education institutions to keep their student visa licences.

March 6, 2014

Source: Home Office

In a speech likely to dismay universities, James Brokenshire warned that he has “considerable concerns” about some education institutions; rejected fears that immigration policy is harming “world-class” universities as a “ludicrous fiction”; and dismissed anger from academics about the immigration checks they must mount on students.

He also attacked Vince Cable, the business secretary, for spreading “falsehoods” in raising concerns over student visas and insisted that students must continue to be counted as immigrants.

Universities UK declined to issue a comment in response to the speech.

The Conservatives are under pressure on their immigration policy after recent figures showed net migration rose 30 per cent to 212,000 in the year to September – calling into question the party’s pledge to reduce net migration to the “tens of thousands” by 2015.

Making his first speech since becoming immigration minister last month, Mr Brokenshire said: “The trusted status given to universities and colleges who want to attract foreign students isn’t an automatic right. And it is one that carries responsibilities.”

He continued: “Currently, the threshold at which education institutions lose their right to sponsor overseas students is a refusal rate of 20 per cent. That is the equivalent of 1 in 5 of the people education institutions are prepared to offer places to being refused by the Home Office because they cannot demonstrate that they are genuine students.”

Mr Brokenshire described the existing rules as “extremely generous”. He added: “The vast majority of education institutions are nowhere near that refusal rate.  But some are: which gives rise to considerable concerns about those institutions and their approach.

“I think that at 20 per cent the refusal rate figure may be too generous and we may need to look [at it] again.”

The minister – who was speaking at an event hosted by thinktank Demos - said Mr Cable was “wrong” to suggest that students are not migrants. “The latest figures show that while 124,000 non-EU students came to Britain in the last year, only 49,000 left the country….does he [Mr Cable] think all students return home after their studies?” 

Mr Brokenshire added: “That’s the very simple reason foreign students must be counted as immigrants, and Vince knows it. He must read these statistics, so you have to wonder why he keeps asserting these falsehoods.”

He pledged that “however hard it will be, we stand by our target of reducing net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands”.

Mr Brokenshire said he wanted to “challenge some of the myths about net migration. That we are somehow harming growth, or reducing the attractiveness of our world-class universities…But when you look at the facts these arguments are dismissed for the ludicrous fiction that they are.”

He added that “while the number of overall student visas issued has declined, the number of applications from university students is actually up again by 7 per cent, and that figure includes an increase of 11 per cent for universities in the Russell Group.”

Addressing concerns raised by academics about visa monitoring in a recent letter to The Guardian, Mr Brokenshire said: “I’m sorry, but is it really unreasonable to require universities to ensure students are genuine? After all, they would hardly admit a British student without checking their A-level results.

“Don’t they have a responsibility to their own students and their institution’s reputation – let alone to the people in the wider community who are negatively impacted by bogus students who come here not to study, but to work?”

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Reader's comments (1)

Of course, the Minister isn't just highlighting one aspect of the core measurable requirements for sponsorship for political gain is he? Highly truted sponsors have to maintain good rates for all three of refusal rate, enrolment rate and course completion rate. There's a point score, and any university that had a refusal rate above 15% would be in a very tricky position if it fell down on either of the enrolment or course completion rates - it woould only take a 2% failure rate in these two to trigger a 'near miss' and a big pile of trouble.