UK MPs seek scrapping of new student visa rules

London: British MPs have asked the government to scrap the new immigration rules that make it mandatory for students from India and other non-EU countries to have an intermediate level of English before coming to the UK to study the language.

The rules, put in place by the previous Labour government, raised the entry level criteria for international students keen to study English in Britain.

The rules were mainly drawn up to deter bogus students who used the student visas to enter the UK and stay on.

In an Early Day Motion, the MPs, led by Stephen Lloyd (Liberal Democrats), said the rules were "rushed and flawed" and added that the rules would discourage an estimated 100,000 high fee-paying international students from coming to the UK.

The motion says that the rules threaten an important sector of the UK economy and are damaging the country's standing as a world leader in education.

The University of Cambridge, which is the largest provider of English language qualifications through its ESOL examinations, has welcomed the motion.

Michael Milanovic, CEO of University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations, said: "We hope that this motion will provide the impetus to re-examine the criteria for student visas so that they are fair to everyone.

"There needs to be a robust system that doesn't discriminate against legitimate students but also prevents people coming to live and work in the UK by pretending to be students."

The motion quotes English UK, the professional organisation of English language education, as estimating that 400 million pounds and 3,400 jobs will be lost from the teaching sector and 1 billion pounds from the university sector due to the new rules.

University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations is the world's leading language assessment provider. It provides exams in English language for over 3 million people every year, in more than 130 countries as well as a range of qualifications for language teachers.

Around the world, thousands of universities, employers and government ministries rely on Cambridge ESOL certificates as proof of English language ability.

A Cambridge ESOL certificate can determine whether the career is progressed or a university place offered, while the broader examination results can help determine a nation's education and investment policy.

It is a not-for-profit department of the University of Cambridge and is part of the Cambridge Assessment group, Europe's largest assessment agency which provides exams and tests covering a huge range of subjects and levels; with more than eight million taken every year.

UK visa for Indian shoppers

With cash-rich Indian tourists emerging as one of the highest spenders in London's plush shopping district of West End, retailers have launched a campaign to urge the David Cameron government to relax visa norms for people from India.

Called 'The Visa-Ability Campaign', the move is driven by predictions that spending by shoppers in Oxford Street, Bond Street and Regent Street will touch 12 billion pounds in the next two years, particularly during the 2012 London Olympics.

The high spend is expected to be mainly driven by international shoppers from India and China, who currently enjoy favourable exchange rates.

The objective is to encourage them to visit and spend in the West End instead of shopping in other countries.

The New West End Company, which represents 600 retailers on the three top-end streets, said the spend on West End for 2010 alone was set to exceed 6 billion pounds.

The company and Visit Britain- the agency that encourages international tourism to Britain - have taken the campaign to Immigration Minister Damian Green, Tourism Minister John Penrose and Culture and Olympics Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Following a recent survey of West End retailers, 40 per cent predicted that the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games would boost sales by 10 per cent.

With one million additional international visitors set to flock into London's West End during this period, this further cements the importance of the Visa-ability Campaign, organisers said.

Jace Tyrrell, Director of Communications at New West End Company, said: "In the lead up to 2012 with international visitors reaching an all time high, our main territories for concern with the current visa restrictions are China, UAE, Russia, India, South Africa and Thailand."

The main demands of the campaign are: The implementation of an easier, more user-friendly and cheaper visa application process to maintain the UK's competitive position against other destinations ? this is especially important during the current economic climate; and a freeze on visa charges and any plans to extend the number of key tourism source countries that require visas.

Other demands included introduction of a European extension visa: a "bolt-on" visa in Visit Britain's core overseas markets of China, India, Russia, South Africa, Thailand and United Arab Emirates so that visitors from these countries who have already obtained a Schengen visa can apply for a UK visa at a reduced price; allowing visitors to make visa applications in local languages; and an investment in training for immigration staff to provide a speedier and friendlier welcome for visitors.