Green: Student visas ‘unsustainable’

by Peter Wozniak

The levels of students coming to the UK from outside the EU are “unsustainable”, Damian Green will say in his first major policy speech.

The immigration minister will claim that the previous Labour administration bequeathed the coalition government an immigration system that was out of control.

Mr Green will say: “We can’t assume that everyone coming here has skills the UK workforce cannot offer.”

The speech coincides with a Home Office report suggesting that up a fifth of non-EU students entering the UK in 2004 outstayed the limits of their visas and were still in Britain five years after they arrived.

Students are the largest group of non-EU migrants in the UK, according to the report, and Mr Green appears to be focusing on them in order to fulfil David Cameron’s election pledge to bring immigration down from “hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands”.

The immigration minister will insist the government intends to retain what he calls the ‘brightest and best’ students from overseas to study at UK institutions.

“I want to protect those who are playing by the rules from those who are not. While the coalition government has made clear our intention to reduce net migration to the UK from the hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands each year, Britain will continue to welcome the talented, the skilled and the entrepreneurial as we have always done”, he argued.

Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students (NUS) slammed the proposals,saying:
“A cap will inevitably drive valuable students away from UK universities, taking with them billions of pounds of vital funds and denying our universities the breadth of knowledge that places them among the best in the world.”

He argued that capping student visas was a “blunt instrument”.

The policy move comes a week after statistics were published indicating that net migration to the UK had increased to 196,000 in 2009, though largely because of fewer people leaving the country, as the number of people entering the country last year actually went down slightly.

The number of student visas issued, however, rose by more than a third.

Controversy over student immigration has persisted since debates over ‘bogus’ colleges being used as a veil for economic migration came to the fore last year.

The Conservative policy of introducing a cap on immigration from non-EU countries survived the coalition agreement, despite fierce Liberal Democrat opposition during the election campaign.

Opponents of the cap argue that an arbitrary limit will discourage skilled workers from seeking to enter the UK, with a potential knock-on effect on the competitiveness of British business.