BY JIM KOURI – While the overall structure of the United States’ student visa program is faulty to the point of being dangerous to U.S. national security, government officials in the United Kingdom are intent on overhauling their own system which has been abused repeatedly. U.S. officials would do well to follow the British visa model.
Tougher entrance criteria, limits on work and an end to students staying in the United Kingdom to look for a job are just some of the changes proposed by Immigration Minister Damian Green as part of a major shake-up of the student visa system and other aspects of British immigration policy.
This latest proposal to overhaul appears more pressing following the December 20 capture of 12 suspected terrorists. The suspects, Muslim males from Somalia aged between 17 and 28, were detained in London, Birmingham, Cardiff, and Trent and charged with suspicion of commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism in the United Kingdom, security officials reported last week.
Several of the Somali men captured had entered Britain with student visas, although they had long since stopped attending classes, according to a British security specialist.
Launching a public consultation on the reform of the student entry route to the UK of the Points Based System the Home Office also revealed that 41 percent of students coming through this route were studying below degree level courses. The Home Office Immigration minister, Damian Green, said, “I believe attracting talented students from abroad is vital to the UK but we must be more selective about who can come here and how long they can stay.”
“People imagine students to be those who come here for a few years to study at university and then go home — that is not always the case. Too many students coming to study at below degree level have been coming here to live and work, rather than studying. We need to stop this abuse,” he added.
These latest proposals follow a major review of the system, and are aimed at a more selective system and, crucially, reducing the numbers to meet the “target of reducing net migration to sustainable levels,” according to the Immigration minister.
The public consultation will run for eight weeks, seeking views on a range of measures to reduce the number of students that can come into the UK.
- reducing the number of people coming to the UK to study at below degree level
- introducing a tougher English language requirement
- ensuring students wishing to extend their studies show evidence of academic progression
- limiting students’ entitlements to work and their ability to bring in dependants
- improving the accreditation process for education providers, alongside more rigorous inspections
- The government has committed to making changes across the immigration system to achieve its overall aim of reducing net migration, in addition to the introduction of an annual limit on workers from outside the European Union. The student route accounts for two thirds of immigrants entering the UK each year which is why it is a key focus for reform.
Damian Green also stated: “This government wants high caliber students with the genuine desire to study to come to our country to come for temporary periods, and then return home. We want to hear views of our proposals from a wide range of people so that our reforms meet this objective.”
The new proposals could see tier four-students coming to the UK under the points based system restricted to those studying largely degree level courses and to child students, unless the institution is a highly trusted sponsor. English language competence could become the key indicator of someone’s eligibility to complete a higher level course and all tier four applicants will have to pass a secure English language test showing competence at intermediary level, a step up from the currently required level.
The drive to ensure students return overseas after their course finishes will mean students will have to leave the UK and apply for a new visa to further their studies, and show evidence of progression to a higher course. It will also see the closure of the post-study route under tier one, according to the British Home Office.
In addition, the government will be looking at ways to improve the inspection and accreditation of the education sector, to ensure the courses offered by private institutions of further and higher education are of the highest quality.
Jim Kouri, CPP, formerly Fifth Vice-President, is currently a Board Member of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and he’s a columnist for Examiner.com and New Media Alliance (thenma.org). Write to him at COPmagazine@aol.com