Collateral Damage: London Metropolitan Students Caught Up In Immigration Turmoil:

“Poorly planned and badly thought-out. The result has been chaos”. This was the conclusion of Margaret Hodge MP, the chairwoman of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, whose report on the “Tier-4 Points-Based Visa System” (PBS) introduced in 2009 by UKBA (UK Border Agency) was published last week. Her insistence that UKBA needs “to get a grip” on the situation instead of “continually adjusting the rules and procedures” in effect echoed the aggrieved reaction of London Metropolitan University (LMU) to UKBA’s revocation of its licence to enrol non-EU overseas students. LMU have been emphatic that they have taken “every reasonable measure to be compliant with UKBA regulations” and that they have been conducting the necessary checks on international students. The real problem, in the University’s view, is that UKBA has changed its requirements “at least 14 times in the last three years”, thereby “creating confusion for universities across the country and causing irrevocable damage to the UK’s globally recognised education sector”. LMU has also announced that it will be taking legal action against UKBA’s decision so its students can return to their courses “as a matter of urgency”.

The argument over who exactly is to blame for a scenario in which an estimated 2,600 LMU overseas students are at risk of deportation within 60 days as from 1st October if they fail to obtain a place at another Higher Education institution reached Parliament last Thursday (6th September). As “The Observer” newspaper pointed out in an editorial on 2nd September, the debate in the House of Commons was “prompted by an e-petition (which had obtained the stipulated minimum of 100,000 signatures) organised by the pressure group ‘Migration Watch’, who are deeply concerned that, “despite very strong public opposition to  ‘mass immigration’, the population of the UK is expected to reach 70 million within 20 years, two-thirds of the increase due to migration”. According to “Migration Watch calculations, “there are around 32,000 bogus students coming to the UK every year, at a cost to the taxpayer of between £326 million and £493 million”.

During the Parliamentary debate, Nicholas Soames (Conservative MP for Mid-Sussex) depicted the PBS as “a shambolic bureaucratic nightmare” and denounced the previous (Labour) Government’s policy on immigration as  “deeply irresponsible”. Frank Field (Labour MP, Birkenhead) was unconvinced about the economic advantages for the UK of “unlimited migration on the scale we have seen” and suggested that no-one really knows what happens to 80% of overseas students who come here because they are counted when they arrive but not when (or if) they leave. This was refuted by Chris Bryant (Labour MP for Rhonnda), who was confident that “the vast majority of these students go home and hopefully become ambassadors for doing business with Britain”. Fiona MacTaggart (Labour MP, Slough) criticized both UKBA and LMU for the “collective punishment of perfectly legitimate students for the failure of the institution at which they registered in good faith”.  Paul Blomfield (Labour MP, Sheffield Central) did not consider LMU to be a “bogus college” but acknowledged that “there may have been failings in its processes and systems”. He was particularly alarmed that “ a damaging message” is being conveyed through the international media saying that “ You can come to the UK, you can comply with visa requirements, you can pay thousands of pounds for your course and contribute to the local economy, you can be making a success of your studies and through no fault of your own, you can still be deported at any time on the whim of the Government”

Blomfield believes that the UK should follow the lead of the US Department of Homeland Security and classify students as “non-immigrant admissions” along with tourists and business visitors. He also quoted the example of Australia, who “tightened their student visa rules in 2010 and then relaxed them again following a fall in the number of student applications”. The Observer agrees that non-EU students should be exempted from the visa cap: “In 2011/12, foreign students accounted for £2.7 billion of UK universities’ £23 billion income”. Similarly “The Spectator” magazine (“We should embrace foreigners who want to study here, not persecute them: columnist Martin Vander Weyer) and “The Economist”, which noted in its latest edition that Britain’s annual £7 billion income from foreign students could double by 2025 and that the long-term benefits of making foreign students welcome here could be “jeopardised by using universities as an arm of UKBA. The job of universities is to teach students, not to police the country’s frontiers”.

Meanwhile, the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE) has announced the setting up of an LMU “clearing house” (starting Monday 17th September) to assist those of their students looking for an alternative education institution. The courses will be “comparable in cost & curriculum and based in London wherever possible in order to minimize disruption to students’ accommodation and transport arrangements. A precise analysis of the nationalities involved is not yet available. For the academic year 2010/11, there were 3660 “non-EU domiciled students” enrolled at LMU: From Africa : 590; Asia:1870; Europe (non-EU): 360; Middle East:440; North America: 270. Latin Americans were mainly from: Brazil: 30; Colombia: 30; Mexico: 20; Venezuela: 15; Argentina & Peru: 5 each. HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) data indicates that during the same period there were 428,225 “non-UK domiciled” research, postgraduate and undergraduate students (including from EU and European Economic Area countries) enrolled at HE institutions across the UK. Of these, 5640 were Latin Americans. The largest contingent was from Mexico (1460), followed by Brazil (1355), Colombia (950), Chile (560), Venezuela (310), Peru (245), Argentina (240), Ecuador (100), Uruguay & Costa Rica (50 each), Panama (45), Bolivia & El Salvador (35 each), Guatemala (30), Dominican Republic (20), Cuba & Honduras (15 each), Paraguay (10), Nicaragua (5). Also featured on the “Latin American list” were the Falklands:  5 postgraduates and 30 undergraduates enrolled at UK Higher Education institutions for the 2010/11 Academic Year.




Filed under: Immigration & Visas | Posted on September 11th, 2012 by Colin D Gordon

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