London: Britain on Thursday said it would increase the number of face-to-face students interviews instead of just paper checks after a pilot study found abuse of the country`s student visa system in Pakistan.
"The philosophy is clear. Overseas students are welcome to the UK but we would like to wipe out the abuse of the system," British Business Secretary Vince Cable said today.
His clarification came a day after Home Secretary Theresa May informed the House of Commons that she had instructed the border agency to undertake pilots in which high-risk student visa applicants would be interviewed, rather than undergo the usual paper-based checks.
"Starting first in Pakistan and moving to other countries, more than 2,300 prospective students were interviewed. The lesson from that pilot was clear - abuse was rife, paper-based checks weren`t working and interviews, conducted by entry clearance officers with the freedom to use their judgement, work," May said.
The Home Secretary announced that "from today, we will extend radically the border agency`s interviewing programme. Starting with the highest-risk countries, and focusing on the route to Britain that is widely abused, student visas, we will increase the number of interviews to considerably more than 100,000, starting next financial year."
"From there, we will extend the interviewing programme further across all routes to Britain, wherever the evidence takes us. I believe this new approach will help us to root out the abuse of British visas, and improve the integrity of our immigration system," she said.
May also noted that there is no cap on the number of
students able to come here - and there are no current plans to introduce a cap.
"I also want to build on the principle of appealing to exceptionally talented people, so I intend to add a further 1,000 places a year for MBA graduates who want to stay in Britain and start up businesses.
"We have introduced a new prospective entrepreneur visa and a graduate entrepreneur visa. And last week, the Chancellor announced that we will work with UK trade and investment to extend the graduate entrepreneur scheme to the best overseas talent."
She also pointed out that the first thing "we did was to require any institution that wanted to bring foreign students to Britain to pass inspection checks to prove they were selling education, not immigration.
"Overnight, more than 150 colleges - one third - chose not to undergo the checks. To date, almost six hundred institutions have been removed from the tier four sponsor register."
"Just by cutting out abuse, we have reduced the number of student visas by 26 per cent - that`s almost 74,000 - in the year to September. And what is more, we have cut the overall numbers at the same time as the number of foreign students coming to our universities has increased."
"Where universities don`t meet those standards, we maintain the power to suspend highly-trusted status, as we did with the Teesside university and Glasgow Caledonian university, and even where appropriate to revoke a university`s right to sponsor foreign students, as we did earlier this year with London Metropolitan University."
"Since then, as a result of their compliance checks, colleges and universities have informed the border agency of some 90,000 notifications about foreign students whose circumstances have changed and who may no longer have any right to be here.
We will work with those universities - and indeed the whole sector - in a system of co-regulation to make sure we enforce student sponsorship obligations and protect the interests of legitimate students."
David Willetts, Universities Minister told newsmen today, "We will visit countries to tell them that legitimate students are very welcome to the UK."
Eric Thomas, head of the UK Universities said, "Overseas students are good for intellectual diversity of the UK and bring economic benefits to the country."