UK minister announces changes to student immigration system

The UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, has announced a major change to the UK student immigration system.

Mrs May announced a series of changes to the Tier 4 student visa system which, she said, would allow Britain to continue to attract the brightest and best students while stopping bogus students from obtaining Tier 4 student visas. She said that there would be steps taken to wipe out abuse but also encouragements to genuine students.

Mrs May said that, under the last Labour government many 'students were coming to Britain not to study but to work. Many colleges were selling not an education but immigration'.

'Students' could not answer simple questions about their courses

As a result, when the government put an end to unskilled migration, 'all that happened was student visas rocketed by 30% to a record 303,000. The surge in numbers meant that, in some parts of the world, the UKBA had to suspend student applications altogether…when we came to government, we found 'students' turning up at Heathrow unable to answer basic questions in English or even give simple details about their course.'

Mrs May told an audience at the Policy Exchange think tank in London that, from April next year, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) will carry out many more interviews of applicants for student visas. She said that there would be well over 100,000 interviews carried out in the next financial year which starts in April.

Mrs May told her audience at the Policy Exchange think tank that, after becoming concerned that the current paper-based visa application system was being abused, she asked the UKBA to carry out a pilot study to help establish whether the system was being abused.

The UKBA conducted the pilot study in 2011 in Pakistan and other countries deemed to be 'high risk'. 'UKBA staff interviewed 2,300 applicants for Tier 4 student visas. The purpose of the interviews was to see whether the applicants were genuine students or if they were hoping to travel to the UK on a student visa intending to work. The interviewees assessed the applicants to see if their English was good enough for them to be able to complete the course for which they had applied and whether they had adequate knowledge in the subject that they said that they intended to study.

'The lesson from the pilot was clear', Mrs May said, 'Abuse was rife. Paper-based checks weren't working and interviews conducted by entry clearance officers with the freedom to use their judgement, work.'

Mrs May said that the number of interviews carried out would be increased 'radically' immediately. Interviews would be focused on high risk countries such as Pakistan to begin with.

She said that, initially, the interviews would be carried out on applicants for Tier 4 student visas because this was 'the route to Britain that is most widely abused' but she said that the interview programme would be expanded 'across all routes to Britain wherever the evidence takes us' over time. She said that she believed that 'this new approach will help us to root out the abuse of British visas and improve the integrity of our immigration system.'

PhD student to be allowed to stay in UK for a year after completing course

Mrs May also announced that, from April 2013, all PhD students who complete their studies will be allowed to stay in the UK for 12 months after completion of their studies to allow them to find a job or to establish a business, if they were able to do so.

Mrs May said that her actions were intended to protect the reputation of the British higher education system as well as to root out bogus students. She said that the UK would welcome all genuine students who wished to study at an UK educational institution.

She said, 'If you can speak English and you can get a place on a legitimate course at a genuine university, you can come to study in Britain, there is no cap on the number of students who can come here and there are no current plans to introduce a cap. But we are also clear that student visas are not a backdoor route to working in Britain. We are clamping down on that sort of abuse.'

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