Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, forced Ministers to admit that nearly half of all overseas students – 134,000 a year – are allowed to overstay their original visas. Moreover, whereas only 1per cent of students from rich countries like the USA extend their visas, the overwhelming majority of students from poor countries in Asia and Africa which need them to return as soon as they are qualified are allowed to stay on in the UK.

    Mr Lilley asked: “When will the government realise that this is the biggest loophole in immigration control?”

    He urged the Home Secretary to reverse her decision to relax enforcement of student visas, saying that the issue of students not returning home after completing their studies should be taken much more seriously.

    Mr Lilley told the House of Commons: “60 per cent of overseas students in Britain have had their original visas extended. Eighty per cent of students from China overstayed their original visas; 90 per cent of those from the Indian subcontinent did so; and 140 per cent of students from Africa were allowed to stay on longer – suggesting many must be getting repeat extensions of their visas.

    Speaking afterwards, he said “95 per cent of applications to extend visas were granted, suggesting there is little checking. I am also concerned at the status of many of the educational establishments attended by students. Half the colleges so far investigated by the government have been found to be bogus.”


    Note to editors:

    Extract from Hansard attached

    Home Department
    The Secretary of State was asked-
    Student Visas

    1. Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): How many overseas students had their visas extended in the latest period for which figures are available; and what proportion of those granted extension in that period had previously received an extension. [177758]

    The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Liam Byrne): Some 134,240 applicants were granted extensions of stay in the UK as students in 2006. Although figures are not available for those previously granted extensions in that category, the fact of a previous extension would have been taken into account. Exit controls were phased out from 1994, but from this year we are reinstating those controls so that we can count people in and out of the country, identifying those who have no right to be here.

    Mr. Lilley: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I understand why he mumbled it; he must be embarrassed now that it has been shown that 60 per cent. of overseas students in this country have their original visas extended. That must also be a source of embarrassment to the Home Secretary, given that she told her Department to relax student visa controls.

    Can the Minister, above all, tell us why students from rich countries do not extend their visas? Only 1 per cent. of those from America do, for example. However, the situation is different in respect of students from poor countries, which desperately need them to return when they have qualified. Some 80 per cent. of those from China overstay their original visas, while 90 per cent. and 140 per cent. of students from the Indian

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    subcontinent and Africa respectively are allowed to do so. When will the Minister realise that that is the biggest loophole in immigration control and that it should be taken seriously and not relaxed?

    Mr. Byrne: Back in 2005, the right hon. Gentleman wrote wisely for the Centre for Policy Studies that taking a draconian approach to limiting immigration to this country would have a detrimental effect on our economy. We can see that in higher education. International education is now worth £12.5 billion to this economy and international students bring in £8.5 billion to our colleges. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is a need for tougher controls on students and every other foreign national. That is why we no longer issue visas without checking people’s fingerprints and why we will introduce identity cards on a compulsory basis, including for students, for those who want to stay in the country for longer than six months. However, the Conservative party appears not to be prepared to match that security measure.