Monthly Archives: July 2012

Interviews for Student Visa Applicants to be Re-Introduced

The UK Immigration Minister Damian Green has announced that interviews will be reintroduced for students to “check their actual ability” to benefit from a course of study in the UK.

A pilot has already been running over the past year which supposedly found that 17% of students accepted on a course “actually should be refused” as they don’t even have “basic conversational English”. Following this, the Minister announced the measure would be fully implemented immediately.

This scheme was fast-tracked following comments from a fellow Tory – Julian Brazier – who said that whilst international students were “vital for our universities”, student visas were becoming an “increasingly abused immigration route”.

Mr Brazier said: “Would he agree that the blanket removal of students from the statistics would drive a coach and horses through the excellent measures he’s introduced.”

Mr Green replied: “I’m happy to report to him and the House that as of today we are introducing more widespread interviewing of students to check their actual ability to benefit from a course here.

“We ran a pilot of this between December and February and we discovered that 17% of those who had been accepted on a course in this country actually should be refused because they couldn’t even speak basic conversational English, so there is always more abuse to drive out and we will continue doing so.”

Hugh Bayley of the UK’s Labour Party said that the UK has some of the best universities in the world and international students contribute some £8billion to the British economy.

My Bayley said: “There’s been lots of speculation over the weekend that the Government is about to change the migration figures so as to exclude overseas students. Will the minister make a statement about the Government’s intentions and will he think seriously about what can be done with the visa regime and the language requirements to encourage more genuine students to study in British universities.”

Mr Green replied: “There are no plans at all to change the definition of immigration. A student who comes here for three years or more is as much of an immigrant as somebody who comes on a work visa for two years or more. There’s an international definition of immigration which covers everyone who moves to another country for more than a year, so students who come for more than a year are included in that definition.”

He said 206,176 Tier 4 student visas were issued in the year to March 2012, covering all students including those attending university.

Important Changes for Tier 4 Visa Applicants

The UKBA has recently announced an important change to the Points Based System for applicants seeking further leave to remain. This change will affect students applying under Tier 4.

If an applicant has overstayed their visa by more than 28 days there application will be refused automatically unless there are exceptional mitigating circumstances which caused the application to be late.

The 28 days of overstay is calculated from whichever of the following is the latest:

  • The end of the last period of leave to enter or remain granted
  • The end of any extension of leave
  • The point that a migrant has received written notice of invalidity in relation to an in-time application for further leave to remain

As expected, if an applicant claims that there were exceptional mitigating factors that should be considered, proof will be required. This proof should be submitted with your application.

Exactly what is meant by exceptional mitigating circumstances is not tightly defined and is somewhat dependant on the individual circumstances of the applicant and their application. The threshold has been announced as being very high. In general, exceptional circumstances that are likely to cause unforeseen delays could be:

  • A serious illness
  • Travel (to submit an application) or postal delays
  • Inability to provide required documentation only where this is beyond the applicant’s control. In other words, if the UKBA are at fault or documents are lost to theft, fire or flood, supported with sufficient evidence of the loss, and the date replacements were sought.

International Students, Please Come to the UK – Damian Green

Damian Green has been forced to admit the UK is now on a charm offensive and not against international students coming to study here.

The Minister has admitted this is needed to challenge perceptions that the UK was closed to non-EU students, following serious clampdowns on UK student visas.

“Please come, we have got some of the world’s best universities,” Mr Green said.

The Immigration Minister is under pressure from the academic and business communities to scale back visa restrictions. These groups are calling for international students to be removed from the government’s net migration figures. The UK’s Coalition Government has pledged to reduce net migration from around 250,000 a year today to the “tens of thousands” by 2015.

However, the verdict is still out as the government maintains it is still too early to say with certainty if government policy has significantly damaged UK universities.

“If the thought is out there that we have changed the system to make it more unfriendly then reversing that perception is important,” he added.

Simon Walker, director general of the Institute for Directors, said: “Remarks that are made in Westminster, or around the country, that go do down quite well locally are often on the front page of The Times of India and the New Straits Times the next day, because of the internet, and the impacts on this on perceptions of Britain are quite strong.”

The chief executive of UK Universities – Nicola Dandridge – has stated she’s more than happy to accept the government’s policies in isolation, but it is the combined effect of many little changes which is so damaging. She goes on to argue that Britain is at a real risk of losing out to the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

“We are viewed as being at the more stringent end of the spectrum and that’s a question of substance as well as perception,” she told MPs.

She said there had been a 10% increase in applications from non-EU students to British universities this year but future projections and “anecdotal” evidence from recruitment fairs suggested the rate of increase would slow.

“The 10% increase, or whatever it may be, is of course positive and it’s wholly welcome but that’s against the background of us having had a very dominant and wonderfully successful market position and we are slipping.

“The international student market is growing and we want to be part of that.”

She said a lot of the increase had come from Chinese students “which is completely wonderful” but they tended to study business and management and there were signs that students from Brazil and India, who tended to study scientific and technical subjects, were increasingly choosing countries that appeared more welcoming.

“We cannot say it’s only the government’s policies but the atmospherics, the way this is playing internationally, which is, I think, causing real problems,” she added.

Mr Green does not accept those arguments as particularly valid, insisting that British universities would not be harmed by government policy. He repeated the government position that the visa restrictions were aimed at closing bogus colleges and reducing competition for jobs for British graduates.

His only concession towards Nicola’s arguments was an acknowledgment that anti-student rhetoric was being poorly received in international higher education markets. He went on to say that “a lot” of work was being done to change that perception.

“And it’s slightly swimming against the tide because, if the thought is out there that we have changed the system to make it more unfriendly, then reversing that perception is important and difficult but very, very essential.

“We have changed the system to cut out the abuse, we have changed the system to skew it towards the best students, skew it towards universities.

“But doing that at the same time as cutting out abuse is a nuanced message to send out.”

He said now that the changes were in place “I think the sensible thing to do is to let the system bed down while we relentlessly go round the world saying the brightest students and the best are as welcome as ever to Britain”.

How do the UK’s Competitors Count International Students?

Much has been said about the UK’s counting of international students in net migration figures. Whilst there are some reports that the Prime Minister – amongst others, most notably Vince Cable – are concerned with the effect this is having on the UK economy, how do other countries count student migrants?

And more importantly, with the UK’s education sector losing market share to its competitors, how do they count student migrants?

This issue is interesting as all countries are required to report net migration figures to the UN, with a single definition of what a migrant is. The government has argued it can’t remove international students from net migration figures as they claim to be bound by the UN definition of net migration. It should be made clear that no-one is asking the government to change the definition, but as we will explore in this article, several countries don’t count students as being migrants as they are temporary by nature. They are only included in the count if they switch immigration category to a long-term or permanent one, such as for work or settlement.

The UK’s reporting of these figures is unique in that they lump international students with highly skilled workers, family migration, European migration and refugees. How can the UK have any kind of granular understanding of the migration figures when they are reported in such a way?

Several pressure groups are calling on government to make this change. But what happens in other countries?

The United States of America

America has two sources of data concerning migration. Producing estimates of net international migration is the responsibility of the United States Census Bureau, and are based on the following:

  • Immigration of the foreign born
  • Emigration of the foreign born
  • Net migration between the United States and Puerto Rico
  • Net migration of natives to and from the United States
  • Net movement of the Armed Forces population to and from the United States

The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for producing permanent immigration statistics. Whilst it is clear that the US Census Bureau counts international students under the immigration / emigration of the foreign born categories, they are not by the Department of Homeland Security. Instead, international students are classified as non-immigrant admissions alongside tourists, business travellers and those involved with cultural exchange programmes.

The Department of Homeland Security also has an additional category for legal permanent residents. These are people who have been issued green cards. Refugees, asylum seekers and those who have naturalised are counted separately.

It should be obvious then that the UN definition of a migrant has no bearing on the migration statistics produced by the United States. Their stats are simply interesting in whether someone is foreign born or not, or whether a particular migrant is in the US on a permanent or temporary basis, as denoted by the immigration category they have applied under.

Australia

Australia does in fact count the number of international student arrivals in estimates of total net overseas migration but they are however included as net temporary arrivals. Others in this category include temporary skilled workers, tourists, visitors and working holiday makers.

Australia counts net permanent arrivals separately, which includes employer-sponsored workers and arrivals under the Humanitarian Programs. It counts returning citizens, permanent residents and citizens from New Zealand settling in Australia as net other arrivals. This provides a highly granular look at the figures.

More importantly, Australia’s presentation of net migration figures is not based on the UN migrant definition. Instead, Australia categorises migrants strictly on a temporary or permanent basis.

Canada

It is the job of Citizenship and Immigration Canada to produce annual statistics on immigration. These data is split by different temporary and permanent categories. International students are counted as temporary.

A separate body, Statistics Canada, performs its own calculation on net migration in the following way:

net international migration = immigrants – (emigrants + net temporary emigrants) + net non-permanent residents + returning emigrants

So, Canada counts international students in the overall net calculations, but students are categorised in the non-permanent resident category, along with foreign workers, humanitarian workers and other temporary residents. As a result, students are not counted as long-term immigrants.

Again, it should be apparent that the UN migrant definition has no influence on Canada’s presentation of immigration statistics. A distinction is made based on the class of visa a migrant holds, much like the USA and Australia. Canada defines immigrants as those who were born outside of Canada, excluding temporary foreign workers, Canadian citizens born outside Canada and those with student or working visas6. Non-permanent residents are persons holding a work or study permit or refugee claimants.

New Zealand

New Zealand is special case in that they are trying to reverse the trend of net emigration. Indeed, New Zealand is actively looking to expand its numbers of international students.

Therefore it is of little significance – from a policy perspective – that New Zealand reports immigration figures in a similar way to the UK. New Zealand reports numbers of permanent and long-term arrivals – defined as people from overseas arriving to live in New Zealand for 12 months or more (including permanently), and New Zealanders returning after an absence of 12 months or more overseas.

English UK Supports Softening of Immigration Figures

English UK welcomes the recommendation by a committee of MPs that the Government should exclude students from its net migration target.

The Home Affairs Committee says it is important that the UK does not fall behind its international competitors by becoming a less attractive option for international students. It also recommends that all students should be interviewed “where it is practical and appropriate to do so.”

Tony Millns, chief executive of English UK, which represents more than 450 fully-accredited state and private schools, colleges and universities, welcomed the MPs’ adoption of a proposal first made in International Students and Net Migration in the UK, a report published by the IPPR think-tank in May on a commission from English UK.

“If the Government were to take the sensible option, and remove students from the net migration figures — as do our key competitors in the international education market, the USA, Australia and Canada — then that must include all those on Tier 4 student visas,” he said.

“We know that most international students tend to progress to UK universities from preparatory courses (especially in English language learning) here, so it is vital to make those students feel welcome as well.”

Mr Millns did not support the MPs’ other recommendation that all students should face interviews by entry clearance officers. He said there was “no evidence” that such interviews were any kind of a safeguard: “In fact the problem of bogus students was at its worst when all student visa applicants were interviewed.”

Is Mr Cameron Softening on Students and Immigration Figures?

The UK’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, has finally begun to acknowledge the impact that visa restrictions are having on students and the British economy.

Expressing concern that “wealthy foreigners” could be prevented from studying in British universities, Mr Cameron is now considering removing students from the net migration count. Remember that the government has pledged to cut immigration from outside the EU to the tens of thousands and it seems there is a real struggle to achieve this goal before the next election, 2015. Currently, annual net migration to the UK stands at an all-time high of 250,000 per year.

This sets Mr Cameron at loggerheads with his Immigration Minister, Damian Green, who in May 2012 rejected the idea of excluding students from the count as massaging the figures. It seems that the wealth of campaign work has begun to sink in, with the Home Office themselves admitting that the cap on students is costing the economy £2.6 billion.

A Downing Street source told the UK’s Telegraph newspaper: “The Prime Minister understands these arguments and is definitely considering a change of policy.”

We await an announcement, but won’t hold our breaths!

It seems there is wide support for such a move. Both Conservative and Labour MPs have raised the issue and there is talk of trying to build cross party support for the issue.

Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi and Labour MP Paul Blomfield said there was a “growing perception abroad that in terms of higher education, Britain is closed for business.”

They added: “Recent changes to the student visa system have unfortunately broadcast the message that foreign students are unwelcome. We’ve already seen a dramatic fall in students coming from traditional markets such as India.”

No one denies that the Government has a right – no, a duty – to crack down on bogus students, but the current crackdown has meant that, “genuine students are getting caught in the net. Our borders policy should not be in competition with our growth policy,” said the MPs.

They pointed out that Australia has been through a similar experience – first tightening the rules on visas for foreign students, and then relaxing them.

Mr Zahawi and Mr Blomfield conclude: “The Government will not act as long as it fears the charge of ‘fiddling the figures’. Above all it would send out a positive message to prospective students throughout the world – you are welcome in the UK.”

Indian Students in the UK the Target of Fraud

There have been a number of reports that Indian nationals in the UK – including a large number of Tier 4 student visa holders – have been targeted in a telephone fraud operation. Students at a number of universities have received calls from individuals pertaining to be from the UK Border Agency (UKBA). False names are being given and the telephone number 020 3239 8294 is being quoted.

These calls most definitely are not from the UKBA.

The fraudsters seem to have collected limited information about their targets, including phone number, full name and passport number, which may cause some people to view the calls as genuine and credible.

The calls all play out in a typical fashion: there is a serious problem with your immigration status and you must make an immediate payment by Western Union (this should start your alarm bells ringing!).

Payment is demanded to prevent action or investigation by the UKBA. Dramatic and highly emotive language is often used as is regular reference to deportation. The common fraudster theme of pressure and panic is all too apparent here.

The incidents have been reported to the UKBA and they have stated that they are taking the matter very seriously. Whilst it is true that UKBA caseworkers may on very rare occasions contact an individual with a pending application, they would not contact an existing visa holder in this way. Further, the UKBA does not have any system of financial penalties.

What remains unanswered however is how the fraudsters have obtained details such as passport numbers.

Should you get such a call we offer some simple advice:

  • Do not confirm or provide any further personal information.
  • Do not under any circumstances make any payment.
  • You could note down the name and return phone number given to you or you could simply hang-up.
  • Report the call to your international student advisor and if you would like to proceed, they can help you file a fraud complaint with the police and the UKBA.
  • The call can also be reported online to Action Fraud