A massive shake-up of the immigration system will slash tens of thousands from the number of foreign students flocking into Britain. Immigration minister Damian Green will also drastically reduce the number of work permits and marriage visas given to non-EU nationals under plans to cut net migration by at least half.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Mr Green said it had become ‘starkly clear’ he must reduce the numbers being given permission to enter and stay in every category of immigration controls.
Long-standing impact: Immigration minister Damian Green believes that only students who will have a positive impact on the country should be granted student visas
It comes after surprise figures UK showed net migration leapt by a fifth last year, to 196,000.
Mr Green revealed his main target will be student visas. He today publishes research showing that – astonishingly – fewer than half of foreign students are undertaking degree-level courses.
Mr Green said it showed the image people had of foreign students attending the UK’s most prestigious universities – paying large tuition fees which kept many institutions afloat – was wrong.
More than 90,000 of them are in fact in the private sector at smaller colleges, offering the likes of GCSEs or vocational training. These students could now face being barred from the UK, although Mr Green says he is unlikely to impose a ‘cap’ on student numbers. Instead, he will focus on making it harder to be allowed to come here.
Mr Green said the Home Office study also revealed that a fifth of those students granted visas for a temporary stay are still here five years later, meaning they have a long-standing impact on the UK’s rapidly rising population levels.
In the 12 months to June this year, 362,015 foreign students were allowed to come and study in the UK – up 35 per cent on the previous year.
There remain huge concerns that many of them are attending so-called bogus colleges which repeatedly slipped through the net under Labour.
The clampdown on foreign students will build on the cap the Government has already announced on economic migrants.
This has sparked rows within the Coalition – particularly with LibDem Business Secretary Vince Cable, and Tory universities spokesman David Willetts. They are likely to agitate against the student crackdown as well.
But Mr Green effectively sent a message when he suggested he had little choice if David Cameron’s promise to reduce net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’ was to be met.
The Prime Minister has said he would like to go even further by returning the figure to that of the mid-1990s – when it was around 50,000.
Mr Green told the Mail: ‘We’ve announced a limit, that’s been controversial. What is transparently clear from this evidence is that the limit itself isn’t enough to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands.
‘We need to look at all immigration routes into the UK and set new rules that mean that the migrants that we get do represent the brightest and the best, and are the migrants we need.’ Mr Green added: ‘We think of this as a temporary route, but for many people it clearly isn’t.
‘Between 2004 and 2010, the number of students coming here has risen hugely, more than 300,000 student visas along with dependants were issued in the year to June 2010. ‘One can draw one’s own conclusions about what will happen long-term.
‘I want a student visa system which encourages the entry of good students to highly trusted institutions but which scrutinises much more closely or cuts out entirely those who are less beneficial to this country.’