London: MigrationWatch UK, an influential think-tank considered right-wing in its approach, has called for more restrictions on granting visas to students from India and other non-EU countries, contending that such visas provide a "back door" entry to the UK.
The group, whose research and figures are often quoted in news discourse, warned against attempts by Universities in UK and others to lobby the David Cameron government to remove student visa from official statistics since their stay in the country is mostly temporary.
Removing student visas from official migration statistics would destroy public confidence in the government's immigration policy, MigrationWatch UK said in its latest report on the controversial subject.
Sir Andrew Green, the group's chairman, called for interviews to establish whether overseas students are genuine and that they intend to return home at the end of their course to be brought back.
He said: "Foreign students are valuable but the present system is far too easily abused. Sadly, the student route has become the back door to Britain and it is wide open.
"Unlike our main competitors, we do not interview students before they come to confirm that they are genuine and there are no checks on their departure".
Agreeing with MigrationWatch UK, Immigration Minister Damian Green said: "We are glad that Migration Watch agrees with us that overseas students should remain part of the net migration figures and that action needs to be taken to prevent abuse of student visas".
"That is why we are introducing a raft of changes to the student visa route".
Meanwhile, Eric Thomas, president of Universities UK, said the perception was wrong that recent changes to the student visa regime had made it more difficult for genuine students who meet visa requirements to come and study in the UK.
He said: "There have been a number of changes recently to the UK's student visa system which have attracted a lot of media attention.
"Unfortunately, this has led to confusion for international students looking to study in the UK... There is no cap on student visa numbers in the UK".
Thomas added: "It has also been widely misreported that there will no longer be post-study work opportunities for international students in the UK.
"The old scheme did come to an end in April this year, but post-study work opportunities are available for applicants via the Tier 2 visa category.
"The opportunity for post-study work is a valuable incentive for prospective students to choose to study in the UK".
First Published: Wednesday, June 13, 2012, 19:00