A committee of MPs has strongly criticised the government’s attempts to tighten the student visa system.
The Public Accounts Committee’s report criticised the points-based visa system introduced in 2009 saying its implementation was “poorly planned and ill-thought out”.
“It is extraordinary that the UK Border Agency introduced its new points based system for students before proper controls were in place to replace the old ones,” Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, said. “The result of the Agency’s poorly planned and ill-thought out course of action was chaos: an immediate high level of abuse of the new system and a surge in the number of student visas. In 2009 the number of migrants who abused the student route to work rather than study went up by as much as 40,000 to 50,000.”
The UK Border Agency has since “been playing catch-up, continually adjusting the rules and procedures in order to try and tackle abuse,” Ms. Hodge said. “The result has been to create a huge amount of bureaucracy for universities and an increasingly complex system for students to navigate.”
She also accused the UK Border Agency of providing poor customer support.
The report pointed out that the Agency has not taken sufficient action to deal with migrants abusing the student route.
The Agency took the decision to focus on controls over entry to the UK. It also decided to prioritise removing individuals proven to be ‘high harm’, for example foreign national prisoners.
The Committee urged the Agency not to ignore such large numbers of people living and working in the UK illegally.
“Genuine international students make a valuable contribution to life in the UK and to our economy, and the Agency must reduce the burden on those students and institutions who pose a low risk,” Ms. Hodge said. “Despite the surge in the number of people abusing the student route, the Agency has not done enough to remove those who are here illegally. Even where it has been told by colleges that so-called students are not studying, it has been unacceptably slow to act.”
Ms. Hodge urged the UK Border Agency to take urgent enforcement action to remove such students. “This would also send a message to other would-be migrants that the student route is not an easy option for those with no intention of studying,” she said.
Noting that currently net migration figures include students who generally stay in the UK for less than five years, the Committee said it would be more informative to exclude students from net migration statistics.