The number of foreigners who came to Britain on student visas rose by a third to more than 300,000 last year, prompting renewed warnings last night of a loophole in immigration law.
Official figures showed that the number of students entering Britain from non-EU countries increased by more than 75,000 in 12 months, despite unprecedented demand for college and university places at home. The influx was exacerbated by a further 31,000 dependants accompanying foreign students, the figures disclosed.
It followed the introduction of Labour’s points-based immigration system which was supposed to made it harder for unskilled immigrants to come to Britain.
However, the new system made it no harder for immigrants to enter the country on student visas, according to campaign groups.
Last night, the Government said that the student visa system had been open to “significant abuse”. Damian Green, the immigration minister, said there would be a thorough review of the rules.
Many students enter Britain to take legitimate degrees, with universities increasingly seeing them as a lucrative source of income at a time of cuts to higher education budgets. Recent research showed that as many as a third of universities were preparing to increase the number of foreign undergraduates they admit from September. As well as attending traditional universities, tens of thousands of foreign students have been admitted to 600 “lower tier” colleges, at which it is easier to gain a place but which are still accredited to hand out bachelor degrees.
Last year, it emerged that some of these colleges offered qualifications in subjects such as circus skills, acupuncture and ancient medicine. Many of their students are given the right to work in Britain after graduating.
About 4,000 illegal immigrants are also thought to have taken advantage of bogus colleges to slip into the country.
Mr Green added: “We are committed to attracting the brightest and the best to the UK, and welcome legitimate students coming here for study. However, in the past there has been significant abuse of the student route, and we need to ensure that every student who comes to the UK is genuine.
“Therefore I am undertaking a thorough evaluation of the student system over the coming weeks and months and I will introduce new measures to minimise abuse and tighten the system further.” According to Home Office figures, 313,011 foreign students were granted visas in the 12 months up to March. They brought with them some 31,385 dependants.
The figures were a 32 per cent increase on the 235,295 students and 24,780 dependants given visas in the previous year.
Numbers rose steadily under Labour, but last year’s increase was thought to have been the largest single rise on record. Under the points-based immmigration system, students are required to have 40 points to come to Britain. Applicants receive 30 points for holding a course offer from a college or university, and 10 points for proving they can pay the fees and support themselves while in the country.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the campaign group Migrationwatch, said: “There is growing evidence that the new points-based system has provided a back door to Britain for bogus students.”
What is the real tally of foreigners in our midst? When will the flock awaken?