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Mark Harper, Immigration Minister, UK

Mark Harper became the Minister for Immigration in the UK in September 2012. He spoke to us about the contentious UK immigration rule changes, amid a government ambition to reduce net migration while attracting the “Brightest and Best” international students to the UK.

The PIE: When the Coalition came to power in 2010 it tightened student visa rules to crack down on visa fraud. What was wrong with the rules previously?

"International students have an impact on communities, public services and infrastructure"

MH: The student visa regime we inherited was open to widespread abuse. It neither controlled immigration nor protected legitimate students from poor quality sponsors. We are the first government to tackle abuse of the student route — where too many institutions sold immigration not education. This isn’t fair on legitimate students. Our reforms have tackled abuse head on while favouring universities, to ensure we remain open to the brightest and the best.

The PIE: Indian undergraduate enrolments at UK universities fell by 23.5% in 2011/2012 – something most put down to the abolition of generous post-study work rights. Is the government concerned?

MH: We welcome the brightest and best Indian students coming to the UK’s world class universities. The UCAS figures from January show applications from Indian students are up 19% year on year. There is also no limit on the number of Indian students who can stay and work in Britain after finishing their degree if they are doing a graduate job paying £20,000 per year or more.

“The drop in the number of Indian students should be seen in the context of very steep rises before then”

The drop in the number of Indian students should be seen in the context of very steep rises before then. The number of Indian students admitted to the UK doubled between 2008 and 2009 (from 30,800 to 61,200 – total study admissions). Indian nationals still account for nearly 10 per cent of students coming to the UK from outside of Europe – second only to China.

The PIE: Many, including Tories, say foreign students should be removed from the net migration count, given their importance to the UK (financially and culturally). Why won’t the government consider it?

MH: Students will remain in the net migration statistics because they are not temporary visitors. They have an impact on communities, public services and infrastructure. We are determined to prevent abuse of the student route as part of our plans to get net migration down to the tens of thousands. But we are not harming genuine students – latest student visa and UCAS application figures show that our changes are having the right effect. More university students are coming here and bogus students are being kept out. There is no limit on the number of students who can come to the UK.

The PIE: Private language schools and colleges cater to thousands of international students each year but face tougher student visa rules than state providers. They have been many closures since 2011. Are there any plans to redress the policy imbalance?

MH: This government recognises the important contribution that international students make to the UK’s economy, and to making our education system one of the best in the world. The UK’s education system is one of the best in the world but to maintain this reputation it is vital that we tackle the abuse of the student route, while making sure Britain remains open for business.

Too many institutions were selling immigration not education and since we have tightened our rules over 500 colleges have lost the ability to bring in international students.

There has been a small increase (1%) in the number of sponsored student visa applications for the University sector in the year to September 2012, and a further increase (12%) in student visit visas. It’s clear that international students continue to come to the UK’s world renowned universities. [more>>]

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3 Responses to Mark Harper, Immigration Minister, UK

  1. immigration rules for elderly parents should be relaxed and elderly parents should be allowed to apply from uk like before. these changes are effecting many. please reconsider we all will be thankful.

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