Student Visas

Posted on June 14th, 2011 in Parliamentary News

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman both on securing the debate and on having sat through the entire Select Committee sitting this morning. He will have heard every single witness, including the Minister and the representative of Migrationwatch UK, say that they have nothing against genuine students coming here, but that the people they are against are bogus students at bogus colleges.

Mr Bacon: I was particularly interested to hear Sir Andrew Green of Migrationwatch UK, who I have always thought is a very articulate spokesman on these matters, say that he was interested in bogus students, bogus applicants, bogus colleges and genuine students who overstayed, because those categories contribute to net migration, but that he would welcome more genuine overseas students, as he thinks that is good for the country and the economy.

My fear is that genuine overseas students have been caught up in all this, so let me say how pleased I am that the Government have taken steps to deal with bogus colleges. The Select Committee on Home Affairs produced a useful report on that issue in 2009 and I gather from the Minister’s evidence to the Committee today that some 58 colleges have had their status revoked and the Government have taken compliance action against a further 235, which may lead to suspension or revocation of status. I applaud those excellent and worthwhile moves. Nobody has a stronger interest in seeing bogus colleges put out of business than legitimate providers. I should add that the Committee’s previous recommendation to restrict by law the use of the word “college” is a good one that Ministers should take seriously.

There is no place for bogus colleges or bogus applicants; nor is there any place for genuine applicants who overstay. We should have clear rules that everyone understands and that are enforced. If we deal with the bogus colleges, the cheats, the bogus applicants and those who fiddle the system, a great deal of the heat-the political problem about immigration-goes away. At that point, we face chiefly not a political problem, but a much more entrenched and difficult economic problem. We are all living through the consequences of the worst financial crash for a century or more. We know that this will be very painful and that severe belt-tightening will take place, and we have seen the Government make a start on that. We all know that any Government would have had to do the same. We know that we have to rebalance the economy away from its heavy dependence on financial services and have much healthier growth in other sectors.