Home Affairs Committee criticises student visa plans

A cross-party committee made up of MPs from each of the major political parties has published a report heavily criticising the government's planned overhaul of the student visa system.

The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee report, published on 17 March 2011, is the latest in a series of publications expressing real concerns at the proposed limits on international student visas.

Some of the key concerns of the committee are that:

  • raising the level of English required to get a visa will severely reduce the number of people coming to the UK as international students
  • the International Passenger Survey, which analysis has been based on, is flawed and is over-inflating the number of students who remain in the country
  • any limitations will damage an industry currently worth £40 billion to the UK economy at a time when the nation needs the income
  • removing students’ rights to stay and work for two years after graduation will stop UK’s education bodies offering post-study work options
  • requiring students to leave the country to reapply for further courses were too strict, and inconsistent with other visa classes
  • whether or not students should even be counted as migrants as the majority return home and do not settle in the UK permanently

The report does also agree with the UKBA proposals in places. Notably it agrees that ‘any cap on student visas is unnecessary and undesirable’ and also that progress has been made with eliminating ‘bogus colleges and deterring bogus students from even attempting to enter the UK’

Previous failures

It is noted in the Committee’s press release that following similar overhauls to their student visa systems the USA and Australia saw sharp drops in the number of applications received - this was as much as 18.9% in Australia between 2008-09 and 2009-10.

Two reports published in February, by the Institute for Public Policy Research and the Higher Education Policy Institute, have already raised similar concerns, notably about the reliability of the data the government has based its analysis on.

The Select Committee perhaps summarises the wide-reaching concerns to these proposals when it says that ‘There has been a consistent tendency, under both current and previous governments, to rush through complex changes to the immigration system… such unnecessary haste leads to poor decision-making’.

Net migration and citizenship

A major issue presented by the above points is that the UKBA, and Immigration Minister Damian Green, are driving down net migration for political gain and without genuine regard for the issues at hand.

It is indeed the case that the proposed changes to the student visa system, and already announced changes to Tiers 1 and 2 of the points based system, will reduce net migration drastically. However, these changes will only affect the flow of people through the country.

Despite the great weight the government is putting on reducing net migration the Citizenship test is still out of date and testing migrants on incorrect material. It is clear that the government is concerned about winning public favour instead of helping migrants integrate into British society.

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