The British Council Report on Student Visas

March 12, 2012

The British Council drew exactly the wrong lessons in their report on the student visa systems of Australia and the United States. That was the conclusion of an examination by Migration Watch.

The British Council report, publicised by an interview with the Today programme on 9 February, suggested that we should learn from American and Australian experience. They suggested that recent immigration changes in the UK would single us out as having the toughest immigration regime while relaxed immigration policies in Australia, Canada and the US combined with Post Study Work Options would attract more genuine students.

The reality is that both Australia and the US have introduced much tougher selection procedures although for rather different reasons. In Australia, the government made changes in 2010 to sever a link between studying certain courses, such as hairdressing, and an almost guaranteed path to permanent residence. This had led to “a variety of education providers and their agents manipulating the system primarily for migration outcomes rather than educational outcomes”.

In the United States, the changes were introduced as a result of concerns that the student route was being used by terrorist suspects. When the authorities required re-certification of schools allowed to issue documents to foreign students, over half of the 80,000 schools were found to no longer exist or to have been post office boxes.

Both countries now require interviews which include an element of judgement by the immigration officer as to whether the applicant is likely to return home after his course. Indeed the Americans increased their staff for this purpose. The evidence in Australia, according to the Council’s own report, is that “applicants are not likely to be discouraged by stricter requirements”. It should also be noted that both Australia and the United States check the arrival and departure of individual students. There is still no such system in Britain.

Commenting, Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migration Watch UK, said

“It is surprising that a government funded body should be issuing material designed to undercut government policy and even more surprising that they should have tried to spin their report to suggest that tightening our visa system would discourage genuine applicants. The real lesson of their report is crystal clear; student routes are open to manipulation. In our view, therefore, the government needs to reintroduce interviews for applicants, especially in countries of immigration concern. This is what our major competitors do without any negative effect on genuine and capable applicants”.

“We call on the British Council to publish their report so that the evidence and conclusions can be properly examined. Apparently it was not intended as a “public facing report”. They can’t have it both ways. If they publicise it on the Today programme they must publish it.”

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