Visas: Student Visa PolicyJanuary 31, 2013
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, for tabling the debate. I declare an interest as someone who often works with universities, particularly east Asian student communities, organisations and bodies.
When our country is in desperate need of growth, the question of how we treat visitors to it is of utmost importance. As the son of a Chinese immigrant, I support carefully managed immigration and deplore the previous Government’s mismanagement of it. However, I must say that I am unconvinced that today’s Home Office and UKBA approach to student visas will address the two underlying root causes of uncontrolled net migration from Europe and a lack of imagination.
Let me start with Europe. Because we are part of the EU-I welcome the Prime Minister’s recent pledge to renegotiate our relationship with it-we have the ability neither to police migration from within the EU nor to prevent people from engaging in welfare tourism. That is likely to intensify from 2014 onwards. What can we do about it? It seems that the answer right now is not very much. Instead, we attack non-EU university students, few of whom have been proven to abuse the welcome that we give them, as a means retrospectively to deal with excessive EU immigration.
The consequences of that policy are potentially ruinous: lower growth as fewer students come to stay, invest and create jobs; a decrease in trade, with fewer people able to help us to communicate with the emerging economies of the world; and universities declining and less able to rely on exporting education to balance their books. A policy goal and target that in themselves are well motivated better to manage immigration risk becoming tools for protectionism, economic decline and European hegemony over our sovereign affairs.
However, with more imagination, we could reverse the damage being done while still meeting our objective of having better, more carefully managed net migration. We should start with the basics: exclude students from the immigration statistics, like most other developed countries; have simpler, more affordable visa processes; authorise visas for part-time masters; and let students and other immigrants stay to work after their studies, particularly for trade-related roles.
Let us use our foreign aid to help countries where most of our immigrants come from to create better alternative destinations than ours. Let us encourage some of our young people to emigrate and learn how to do business in emerging markets, reducing the net migration totals in the process. It is time to stop making the international student the bogeyman of our dysfunctional EU-directed immigration policy. Are my noble friend and the head of UKBA willing to meet me and others to discuss more innovative ways to help to manage immigration and to help this country to grow again?