Universities with large numbers of overseas graduates who fail to return home could find it harder to bring students to Britain under new visa plans being examined by the Home Office.
Under the potential reform, visa applications from foreigners wanting to study at an institution with few overstayers would be swiftly assessed in recognition of the university’s good record. But slower and stricter checks would be carried out on applicants wanting visas for courses at universities with high numbers of overstayers.
The aim of the idea — which is being prepared for Home Secretary Theresa May — is to give universities an incentive to ensure their foreign students comply with the terms of their visas.
One possible result is a higher proportion of refusals for applicants to universities which have previously had a high number of overstayers. Universities placed on the “go slow” list could also lose potential students as applicants opt to apply to institutions for which visas will be more easily granted.
Mrs May’s move to press ahead with efforts to cut student overstaying will anger university leaders, who oppose restrictions on student migration.
It will also risk a new rift with Chancellor George Osborne, who last week told the Commons Treasury committee that student numbers were expected to grow by 65,000 in the next few years.
He rejected Home Office suggestions that tougher English tests and curbs could be imposed on postgraduates bringing dependants to Britain, saying that this is “not government policy”.
However, sources say Mrs May believes too many students fail to leave Britain after their studies — and remains determined to ensure that universities take more responsibility for the problem.
Under current rules, universities are granted a “sponsor” licence, allowing them to take overseas students if they show that those they recruit are adequately qualified and study once here.
A licence can be withdrawn, but officials believe a more “graduated” penalty system should apply for institutions which bring significant numbers of overstayers into the country.
The “go slow” visa plan would seek to achieve this by delaying the processing of visa applications by non-EU citizens seeking places at such universities. Applicants would also face tougher scrutiny. The hope is that the negative impact on recruitment would encourage poor-performing institutions to assess the likelihood of applicants overstaying their visas more carefully.
The new Home Office move follows a warning by Mrs May at the Conservative Party conference in October that “too many of them [foreign students] are not returning home as soon as their visa runs out”. She added: “I don’t care what the university lobbyists say: the rules must be enforced. Students, yes; overstayers, no. And the universities must make this happen.”
The Home Secretary gave a further indication of a tougher approach towards universities in a speech to the Reform think tank last month.
She said then that she wanted to “bring accountability to the immigration system… by rewarding those who play by the rules, for example with faster processing, lower costs and less onerous inspection” and “cracking down on those who abuse the system…by limiting their ability to benefit from immigration in the future”.
Figures published by the Office for National Statistics last month showed that 93,000 more non-EU students arrived in Britain last year than departed. Statistics for previous years have shown a similar gap between arrivals and departures.@martinbentham
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Home Office to penalise universities when their students overstay visas
Posted on December 21, 2015