|Eleventh Report, Student visasfollow up (HC 1445), published 26 July 2011
|1. We were disappointed that the impact assessment was so delayed in this instance and call on the Home Office to take measures to ensure that this situation does not recur. (Paragraph 6)
|2. We note that this last in particular may be optimistic in light of the recent suspension of Highly-Trusted Sponsor status for Glasgow Caledonian University. (Paragraph 8)
||The Committee commented on the suspension of Glasgow Caledonian University's sponsor licence. This was unrelated to the changes to the system. Where the UK Border Agency take action to suspend a sponsor licence, they make it clear what action is necessary for the licence to be re-instated and work with the sponsor to enable this. Glasgow Caledonian University took swift action to resolve the problems highlighted by the UK Border Agency, and as a result their licence was rapidly reinstated. At the same time it is important that all sponsors, including universities, have due regard to their obligations and monitor closely the international students they are taking in and compliance with immigration rules. The Agency is committed to taking swift action to ensure high levels of compliance.
|3. We question whether it will be as easy for institutions to fill student places and replace
lost income as the Government's Impact assessment suggests. (Paragraph 9)
| ||Not accepted.
|4. The Home Secretary's dismissal of the validity of the impact assessment seems to confirm our deep concerns that inadequate migration data sources, both historical and current, are thwarting both the Migration Advisory Committee and the Home Office from developing genuinely evidence-based immigration policy. Given the significance of the higher education sector to the UK economy and the need to boost international confidence if UK universities are to be able to continue to recruit the brightest and the best it is exceptionally important that policy in this area is seen to be carefully considered and evidence based. Policy decided in advance of the publication of the impact assessment does not send that message. We do, however, welcome the research being carried out by the Migration Advisory Committee to look into the impacts of migration on public services and we await their report with anticipation. (Paragraph 10)
|| ||Not accepted.
|5. We are concerned that the Home Office still does not take evidence-based policy as seriously as it could. We urge them to adopt a more evidence-based approach to policy making rather than risk determining policies separately from examining the evidence. (Paragraph 11)
||The Committee was concerned about the quality of the evidence on which the policy was based, and made various comments about the Impact Assessment. The Home Office is committed to making the best use of the available evidence. As the Minister of Immigration's letter of 24 May stated, the International Passenger Survey (IPS) is the foundation for the Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures on net migration. These are the best measures we have available, have been based on a consistent definition since 1991, are produced in accordance with National Statistics
codes of practice and are used widely across Government. However, where reliable supplementary data sources are available, they will form an element of the range of evidence that we draw on when formulating policy, and in due course e-Borders will provide increased border crossing data.
This is not just a question however of statistics. The Minister of Immigration's speech of 1 February drew attention to a range of different kinds of abuse of the system, ranging from outright deception by students and colleges to low standards in some parts of the sector who have been unregulated and often motivated primarily by financial rather than educational concerns. A proportion of the consistent rise in international student numbers over recent years has been due to a lax approach and the Home Office and UK Border Agency are determined to tighten policy and processes until we have confidence that student immigration is genuine, controlled and of a high quality.
| ||We do not propose to comment further on the Impact Assessment at this stage as the Home Secretary has already given the detail of further evidence to the Committee about it. The majority of the costs in the Impact Assessment go to the issue of lost output to the economy as a result of jobs done by international students no longer being filled. As the Committee knows, we have asked the Migration Advisory Committee to review the assumptions made, in particular that no jobs previously done by international students will be replaced. But in any case, student visa policy is not driven by the economic contribution such students make through work carried out in addition to their studies.|
We would also draw to the attention of the Committee the commentary on the website of Straight Statistics at http://www.straightstatistics.org
/article/funny-money-and-student-visas, entitled "Funny Money and student Visas" which makes a number of pertinent points.
|6. We take this opportunity once again to remind the Government of paragraph 110 in our first Report of this Parliament, on the Immigration Cap (HC 361) "There has been a consistent tendency, under both the current and previous Governments, to rush through complex changes to the immigration system. ... Such unnecessary haste leads to poor decision-making which is more likely to be challenged in the courts." The
Government did not address this statement in its response to our Report on the Immigration Cap nor when we referenced it in our first Student Visas Report: we hope that this warning will be observed in future. Whilst we realise the difficulty and cost involved in collecting the required data, we hope that the announcement of the award of the e-Borders contract to Raytheon and IBM represents the first step towards a migration policy based on actual migration figures, rather than placing reliance on
incomplete data compiled from a range of surveys. (Paragraph 14)
|After the announcement of the measures to Parliament on 22 March, we published a more detailed Statement of Intent on 31 March, setting out the changes and the implementation timetable in more detail so that education providers and students could plan for them. The measures are being implemented through a series of staged changes to the Immigration Rules. The first changes came into force on 21 April; the second set on 4 July; and we are planning the final set for April 2012.|
This autumn we shall consult with corporate partners on various technical aspects of the April changes such as limiting the time that can be spent in Tier 4 to five years at degree level study and concerning the closure of Post Study Work.
The Home Secretary also said when making her announcement to Parliament on 22 March that she would ensure that innovative student entrepreneurs who are creating wealth can stay in the UK to pursue their ideas and that she was pleased to be able to return some measure of discretion to UK Border Agency officers to deal with people whom they have plainly seen were not coming here as bona fide students; we will consider ways in which we might expand on these.
Since March the Home Office and the UK Border Agency have also taken forward the establishment of a stricter regime for the educational oversight and licensing of Tier 4 sponsors, as announced in March.
| ||On 13 June we announced that educational oversight of private sector providers would largely be carried out by the Quality Assurance Agency and the Independent Schools Inspectorate. Further details about that process were announced on 28 July. Both QAA and ISI have consulted corporate partners in the education sector on their proposed standards and processes, which are now finalised. The deadline for applications for inspection by them was 9 September. |
The 28 July announcement also confirmed that the Bridge Schools Inspectorate would inspect faith-based private colleges in England and Wales, and that the School Inspection Service would inspect Steiner and Montessori colleges in England and Wales with providers required to apply by a deadline of 7 October. It also confirmed that Education Scotland would inspect privately funded providers in Scotland, with providers required to apply by 11 November. We will confirm the arrangements for educational oversight Northern Ireland on the UK Border Agency website shortly.
Also in July the UK Border Agency published proposals to amend the criteria for Highly Trusted Sponsor status, which all Tier 4 sponsors must in future meet. The Agency published revised guidance on 4 September, taking account of comments received. This is available on the UK Border Agency website at http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/documents/
guidance-t4-050911.pdf?view=Binary. Sponsors who did not already hold Highly Trusted Sponsor status who were licensed for 12 months or more had to apply by 9 October.
| ||The Government does not agree with the Committee that reform in this area has been rushed. A public consultation was followed by a staged and planned implementation, with further technical consultation during that implementation process. There was understandable pressure from the education sector to make an early announcement, so as to end the uncertainty which the sector regarded as damaging to its business and to allow it to plan ahead for the coming academic years. While it is far too early to draw any conclusions about the actual impact of the changes, not least because they will not be fully in place until next April, we believe that so far implementation has gone smoothly and there has been little disruption to the legitimate business of our high quality institutions.