On Thursday 6 June both Houses
of Parliament debated the demand by five chairmen of Parliamentary Committees
that the government remove students from their net migration target. The
government have flatly refused to the fury of these eminent Parliamentarians. They
point out that the Universities Lobby have got their facts completely wrong.
Contrary to their claims, our main competitor countries certainly do include
students in their net migration figures.
The reason this matters is that
the universities are trying to duck and weave to prevent the government’s
determination to reduce immigration from impinging on their ability to recruit
as many foreign students as they wish from outside the EU.
Underlying this row is the fact
that there has been scandalous abuse of the student route since the
introduction of Labour’s Points Based System which proved wide open to fraud.
At one point they even had to suspend it in a number of countries and the
National Audit Office subsequently reported that “in the first year of the
scheme, 40,000 to 50,000 “students” came to work rather than to study”.
More evidence of abuse is on
The first ray of light will
come in August from improvements to the International Passenger Survey which
will provide an estimate of the number of students who have stayed on
illegally. Eventually, the electronic border system will tell us who they are
(but not, of course, where they may have disappeared to).
Foreign students fall into three
different categories. The first is those who are genuine and who either leave
at the end of their studies or stay on legally to work or to marry. They
present no problems and are an obvious benefit to our economy and our society.
The second category are those
who are genuine but decide to stay on, becoming illegal immigrants. The third
category are bogus from the start and come here to work on the black market.
These last two groups are
distinctively harmful. They undercut the wages of British workers, they enable unscrupulous
employers to undercut those who offer salary and conditions and, of course,
they add to our population and to the pressure on our public services.
Home Office research has found
that only 20% are still here legally after five years but there is at present
no way of knowing how many of the rest have actually left the UK.
Not many people know that, for
the last ten years, 300,000 non EU migrants have arrived every year but only
100,000 have left. Some have, of course, stayed on legally but large numbers
have done so illegally. Given that 60% of the inflow are students, they must be
a major contributor to net migration.
The government are trying to tackle
this with a major programme of 100,000 interviews a year designed to cut out
bogus students before they can get here. A pilot scheme found that, in some
countries, 60% of applicants would have failed a credibility test. Indeed, the
first results from the last academic year show a sharp fall in visa
applications accepted in the Indian Sub-Continent, mainly for colleges. In
fact, applications for British universities were up, yes up, by 5%.
Applications from China were also up.
The University Lobby argue that
they must be allowed to maintain their share of the market for international students. Let s suppose that it will grow at five per
cent a year. We already accept about 200,000 non EU
students every year. At this rate of growth the student inflow in ten years
time would total 325,000 year. Given the weaknesses of the present system, any
such development would put any net migration target in real difficulty.
The universities have a genuine
problem in that the funding system imposed by the government makes them heavily
reliant on foreign students. The only
way to tackle the tension between immigration control and the benefits of
genuine students is a much more intelligent and, indeed, discriminating system.
We need to know from which
countries the overstayers have come and to which institutions they have
applied. Those who fall into either of these categories must be very carefully
checked. Why, for example, would Indian students pay what to them are huge sums
of money for a one –year master’s degree in Britain when such degrees are not
accepted in India as a basis for a PhD or even for government employment?
Given the numbers involved, the
eventual outcome on the admission of students will be absolutely critical for
effective immigration control. Judging by Thursday’s debate, Labour have no
constructive proposals. Their spokesman
opposed interviews on the grounds that they were “heavy handed” yet both the US
and Australia require interviews. Meanwhile, Vince Cable spoke recently of
public “panic” about immigration. He and the Liberal Democrats are completely
out of touch. The public are alarmed, and rightly so. The recent census
revealed that four million immigrants arrived in the last ten years, that
600,000 white British have left London where they are now in a minority. These
are massive social changes taking place without a vestige of public consent.
Continued failure to get immigration under control would seriously undermine
public confidence in the whole political process.