UK Immigration Minister signals “review” of student visas… Has UK learnt its lesson? I doubt.

Deccan Chronicle reported on 7th September that British immigration minister, Mr Damian Green, is due to announce a crackdown on student visas. (See link.)

Mr Green, in an interview with Radio 5 Live on Monday morning mentioned his India visit. “I’m going to see if [visas] are benefiting university students. We’ve found people calling themselves collegiates but instead had a room above a kebab shop … I recently came back from India where I saw rows of shops where literally every other shop was offering visas to study in England. The authorities in India want to cooperate, as they don’t want their students conned by unscrupulous agents there,” he said.

Guys, are you surprised!!! Ever since UK lifted the flood gates more than a year ago, I have been predicting that a “review” will be needed sooner than later…

In an attempt to better understand what the Immigration Minister is saying, I visited the speech made to Royal Commonwealth Society by Home Office Immigration Minister Damian Green on 6th September 2010. Here are the excerpts from that speech:

Of course it is true that there have been many changes in the system since 2004 so it would be wrong to extrapolate directly, but the possible consequences are clear. If we continue to have a fifth of each cohort of students staying long term we will have very high net migration numbers indeed.

To those who say that these are precisely the brightest and the best who Britain needs, I would say let’s look at the facts. We estimate that around half, I repeat, around half of the students coming here from abroad only, are coming to study a degree level (or above) course.

Most people think foreign students come here to attend our top universities and of course these are the students we want to attract. But the real picture of the parts of Britain’s education system that attract foreign students is much more varied. It includes the publicly-funded further education sector, private vocational colleges, language schools, independent schools and many partnerships between higher and further educational institutions. The foreign students attending these various establishments may, or frankly may not be, the brightest and the best.

I want a student visa system which encourages the entry of legitimate students coming to study legitimate courses.  For me that certainly means students coming to study at universities, students who are equipped to study the courses to which they have subscribed and who fulfil their academic obligations, students who at the end of their period of leave return to their country of origin. That is good for the students concerned, it is good for the institutions they study in, and it is good for Britain. Indeed study of this kind has been one of our national success stories ever since Margaret Thatcher took the decision to expand our higher education sector and it certainly brings significant economic benefits to the UK.

However, it also means that we need to understand more clearly why a significant proportion of students are still here more than five years after their arrival. And we also need a system which can scrutinise effectively, and if necessary take action against, those whose long-term presence would be of little or no economic benefit. Of course we are the ideal country for others to come to learn English. But I want to ensure those who come here to study at language schools or any other institutions play by the rules and leave when their visas expire.

We estimate we are bringing more than ninety thousand people into Britain every year to do courses below degree level at private institutions.  We need to decide whether this is right and also whether it is the best thing in each case for the students themselves, given the high financial commitments required of them.  When I visited India last month I found the authorities and education sector representatives were happy to work with us to raise the quality of applicants and also to make life difficult for the unscrupulous agents who too often prey on them.

It is beyond dispute that Britain’s universities contain some of the best in the world and that they need to be competing for the world’s best students. The immigration system should help them in this. But this does not mean that every student visa issued is necessarily benefiting Britain.

So is he saying that the system put into place last year has not worked and that policy is going to be re-jigged?  Listen on to what he continues to say in that speech… (full text of the speech available on this link)

There is no doubt that by the end of their period the last government wanted to bring immigration under control. But we’ve learnt the Points-Based System is not enough on its own. It needs bolstering in two important ways. Annual limits on work visas, just as they have in other open and successful economies: and a much closer focus on who is qualifying under each section of our immigration system. We absolutely need sustainable immigration levels. This will relieve pressure on public services, and stop immigration being such a delicate political issue. At the same time, we must be confident enough to say Britain is open for business and study to those who will make this a better country, and a more open society.

Its like history repeating itself again and again and lessons of one country not being learnt by another. The Australian Immigration Minister Senator Chris Evans indicates this in his media release on 8th September when he states:

‘This was one of the factors which led to the unsustainable explosion in student numbers. Other countries, including the United Kingdom, are now dealing with the same problem and are looking to follow Australia’s example by tightening immigration controls.’

Senator Evans said Labor had already introduced regulations which were proportional to the risk posed by different categories of prospective students.

Australia now has a minority government akin to Britain and while the care-taking Immigration minister is not called Green, they have indeed got Greens in the government. (The new Immigration Minister will be appointed by the new PM, Miss Julia Gillard, next week…)

The story is the same and players are the same. The affected country is India. The private colleges woo students from India. And the interestingly the scapegoats will be the education agents from India who are so generally stereotyped as unscrupulous…

I am also an education agent and not unscrupulous for sure… Excuse me!!!


1 Comment

  1. The British Authorities should first regularise their own education institutes which are “doggy”. It’s these institutes that have given birth to the “unscrupulous” agents in India. I also blame a few UK universities who have unprofessional agents, are aggressive for business and can go to any extent to get students from India.

    It’s a joke that the British immigration minister, Mr Damian Green has only realized things after his visit to India. Isn’t this a lapse in their own strict systems. Every second day we hear about institutes being closed down in UK, their institute rating system failed. Looks like we are seeing greater intolerance when it comes to accepting reality by UK leaders and authorities. This may be the reason for the fantastic statement (or may be confession) made by him


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