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UK universities oppose ‘strict student visas’

Mar 9, 2011, 12:51 PM | Article By: Alhagie Mbye The Point’s UK correspondent

Since the coalition government led by the Conservatives came in promising to take action on what it called ‘uncontrolled immigration’ by the former Labour government, some international students coming to the UK are facing ‘extremely difficult new rules’.

Such rules, described as ‘strict’ by university chancellors across the country, also prompted them to formally address a letter to the Home Secretary urging her to ease such restrictions.

Just a few hours ago, a respected immigration barrister, who took several similar cases to court, personally contacted this correspondent revealing that while he respectfully understands the government’s position, the ‘letter from the university authorities is worthwhile, and must be given some consideration’.

Meanwhile, an alliance of UK vice-chancellors from a total of 16 universities, who signed the letter, have urged the Home Secretary, Theresa May, to immediately ‘abandon plans to restrict the number of student visas’. 

Some of the immigration measures widely published by The Point over the past few years included a tier based system. It is divided into five tiers covering from ‘highly skilled migrants’ to ‘unskilled workers’. However, it also includes Tier Four, mainly for international students.

Under the system, a student can stay here for the length of the course plus another total of four months - for courses lasting a year or more; or one or two months for courses between six months and a year. However, for shorter courses, international students are only granted a week to stay in the UK once the course has finished. Foreign students have been historically allowed to work 20 hours, while school is in session and 40 hours during holidays.

These are some of the reasons why some government officials, including MPs, were consulted to offer advice and help for Gambian students. Some of the Gambian students found the system ‘difficult to understand’ prompting many immigration lawyers through this correspondent to offer guidance to that effect. It was a success.  

When the system was enforced, a university immigration law lecturer told The Point that she and many other lawyers found it ‘hard to grasp the system in its entirety’. But now it is fair and reasonable to state that many are now used to the system.

On its part, the government thinks the system is ‘wide open to abuse’, with what is called ‘obscure courses and colleges effectively offering a back door to settling in the country’.

But the university officials think otherwise, and said that they are ‘profoundly concerned’ with regards to the government’s direction, which would have a devastating effect on universities’.

The government is not backing down, at least for now, and has responded that universities ‘should have nothing to fear from policies that root out abuses in the student visa system’. Meanwhile, international students are contributing about £6 billion a year to the country’s economy, prompting the debate to ease the restrictions continuing.