The Tories are set to clampdown on UK visas for foreign students, particularly those from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The proposal, put forward by Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling, aims to offset what the Conservatives describe as “the weakest link in Britain’s border controls.”
Grayling, who has been consulting higher education about the proposals, claims that Britain’s lax controls have resulted in “tens of thousands of bogus students in the UK, and hundreds of unregulated colleges providing student visas, but little education.”
Student visas now represent three-quarters of the visas issued under the UK points-based system, which was introduced in 2008. Indeed, Britain’s intake of foreign students has trebled since Labour came to office in 1997. The government issued 236,470 student visas last year, compared to 69,607 handed out in 1998.
Despite recognition that foreign students are money-spinners for the financially pressed sector, “a clampdown is still necessary to account for the high numbers”, Grayling claims.
Grayling has also observed that there are only 165 universities and higher education colleges in the United Kingdom, yet last month a total of 1,925 organisations stood approved by the UK Border Agency to sponsor migrant students.
The Tories claim that in a recent nine-month period, only 29 visa applicants out of 66,000 applying to enter the UK from Pakistan – one of the high risk countries – were actually interviewed by officials. Moreover, more than 13,000 applications from Afghanistan and Pakistan have not been fraud-checked at all since October 2008.
Under Grayling’s plans, only higher education institutions registered at Companies House would be entitled to fast-track students. Foreign students in non-recognised bodies would be required to pay a bond of £1,000-£2,000, repaid in instalments at the end of each academic year. Rules would be tightened to prevent student applicants borrowing money to prove they are financially independent, and students would be required to leave the UK after their course in order to apply for a work visa. The Tories would also place a ban on students switching courses in this country.
These plans come at a time when many British universities are strapped for cash, and the income from foreign students has helped to keep many institutions afloat. One quarter of the student population at the University of Sussex is comprised of international students and the Vice Chancellor, Michael Farthing, plans for this figure to grow.