Home Secretary announces crackdown on overseas students and work visas
Amber Rudd has announced major new restrictions on overseas students, including two-tier visa rules affecting poorer quality universities and courses, a crackdown on work visas and the introduction of a £140m “controlling migration fund”.
In her speech the home secretary warned businesses that foreign workers should not be able to “take jobs that British people should do”. Later it was made clear that the consultation paper will include an option to require companies to publish their proportion of international staff they employ.
Rudd’s announcement, coupled with the pledge to boost the proportion of British doctors in the NHS, came as ministers tried to demonstrate that they would not wait for Brexit to deliver cuts to the near-record level of net migration to Britain.
The new drive to reduce the flow of overseas students from outside Europe – who account for 167,000 of the 600,000 new migrants each year – is to focus on linking student immigration rules to the quality of colleges and courses for the first time.
Rudd said the Home Office would shortly consult on the new student immigration system and on tightening the resident labour market test that companies have to pass before recruiting employees from overseas, as part of the drive to reduce net migration – which currently stands at 327,000 – to “sustainable levels”.
“The test should ensure people coming here are filling gaps in the labour market, not taking jobs British people could do,” she said.
She also announced that mandatory immigration status checks under this year’s legislation, including on those who apply for licences to drive taxis, would come into effect this December.
She made it clear that leaving the EU was just one element in the campaign to reduce immigration.
The home secretary denied that she was pulling up the drawbridge in her speech to the Conservative party conference in Birmingham but said the consultation on overseas student migration would look at whether the student immigration rules should be tailored to the quality of the course and the quality of an educational institution.
She raised the prospect of a multi-tiered student visa system, under which rights to bring in families and their right to work, to go on to post-study jobs or to come without passing an English language test, would be tied to the quality of the course and the university involved.
Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s chief of staff, has in the past floated the idea of restricting the right to work in Britain after graduation to those who attend Oxbridge and the Russell Group of universities.
Rudd said the current system allowed favourable employment prospects to all students, irrespective of their talents and the university’s quality,when they stopped studying. She said that while an international student was studying in Britain, their family members could do any form of work.
“And foreign students, even those studying English language degrees, don’t even have to be proficient in speaking English. We need to look at whether this one-size-fits-all approach really is right for the hundreds of different universities providing thousands of different courses across the country. And we need to look at whether this generous offer for all universities is really adding value to our economy,” said the home secretary.
“I’m passionately committed to making sure our world-leading institutions can attract the brightest and the best. But a student immigration system that treats every student and university as equal only punishes those we should want to help. So our consultation will ask what more can we do to support our best universities – and those that stick to the rules – to attract the best talent … while looking at tougher rules for students on lower quality courses.”
The plans were condemned as “spectacularly ill-informed” and “an act of madness” by Paul Blomfield, co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on international students.
Responding to Rudd’s conference speech, the Labour MP for Sheffield Central, said: “I’m shocked by the home secretary’s comments, which are spectacularly ill-informed.
“She doesn’t seem to know how many universities we have in the UK or understand the current rules for which she is responsible, let alone appreciate the enormous contribution international students make to the universities and cities where they study.
“International students bring £8bn a year to the UK economy, creating tens of thousands of jobs across the economy. Education is one of our most successful export industries. The only people cheering today’s announcement will be our competitors.”
The University and College Union (UCU), which represents university staff, also criticised Rudd’s proposals.
Sally Hunt, its general secretary, said: “International students make an enormous contribution to UK higher education, both educationally and economically. As highly skilled people, they make an invaluable contribution to our economy.
“This proposal to limit overseas students to particular universities and courses equates to pulling up the drawbridge and sending a message that the UK is closed for business. Ministers need to take a very different approach and support universities by removing international students from the net migration target altogether.”
Nicola Dandridge of Universities UK responded to Rudd’s proposed changes by stressing the quality and diversity of British university courses and saying that the overwhelming majority of overseas students went home at the end of their studies.
“The diversity of institutions and the range of high-quality courses offered is one of the many strengths of our university sector. Any criteria must reflect that diversity. The criteria must also support the critical role that many universities play in their regions, where the impact of international students directly supports regional economies, supplies high level graduate skills and ensures the sustainability of many courses at regional level,” she said.
“Polling has shown that the British public does not see international students as long-term migrants, but as valuable, temporary visitors. International students come to the UK, study for a period, and then the overwhelming majority go home after their studies,” she added, disputing their inclusion in the net migration target.
Rudd said the process of bringing skilled workers to Britain from outside Europe had become a box-ticking exercise, allowing some firms to get away with not training local people. “We won’t win in the world if we don’t do more to upskill our own workforce. It’s not fair on companies doing the right thing. So I want us to look again at whether our immigration system provides the right incentives for businesses to invest in British workers,” she said.
The review is likely to look again at the resident market labour test and ensure that job vacancies are advertised locally in Britain and not just abroad among potential migrant staff.
Rudd said the “controlling migration fund” would be designed specifically to ease the pressure on public services in areas of high migration. It replaces a Labour migration impact fund, which was scrapped in 2010 as ineffective. The fund would also be used in the government’s stated drive to “create a hostile environment for illegal immigrants”, she said.
Labour’s fund had spent money on translation services rather than English lessons, the home secretary said, and councils were given money to promote recycling rather than the support they needed to ease housing pressures.
Labour’s fund was financed by a £50-a-head levy on visas. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said Labour’sthe party’s new proposal – an impact fund of £50m over two years – would also be financed by a levy on citizenship applications. Rudd did not spell out where the £140m would come from.
The Home Office said the £140m fund would be spent over the remaining three-and-a-half years of the current parliament. English local authorities would shortly be invited to bid for £100m of the fund to manage a range of issues associated with sudden and high levels of migration such as securing community cohesion, providing English language teaching or tackling overcrowded properties.
The remaining £40m would be set aside to fund immigration enforcement activity in areas of high migration, including targeting and removing illegal immigrants living in overcrowded accommodation or sleeping rough who are resistant to finding proper accommodation or returning home.
The shadow home secretary, Andy Burnham, said it sounded as if the prime minister had had a heavy hand in drafting Rudd’s speech. He said: “We’ve heard these conference promises on net migration and child migrants before and they haven’t come to anything – people will take them with a pinch of salt. On Theresa May’s watch, net migration reached record levels.
“Amber Rudd is right to introduce a scheme to help communities address the pressures of migration, as Jeremy Corbyn called for last week. But she had depressingly little to say about the largest humanitarian crisis since the second world war and failed to repeat the commitment to taking a share of adult refugees.”
The Institute of Directors also expressed disappointment at Rudd’s announcement. “There are different ways to control immigration and we should see Brexit as a chance to design a system which addresses local concerns, without damaging business or universities,” said Seamus Nevin, the institute’s head of employment and skills.
“Staying on the current course will end up satisfying no one. Net immigration will likely stay above 100,000, while firms and the public sector struggle to fill skills gaps, making it harder for them to navigate the uncertainty of the coming Brexit negotiations.”
Addressing a fringe event, the Brexit secretary, David Davis, hinted that employers might be obliged in any future work permit system to seek a British national to fill a job before they could employ someone from overseas.
“My job is not to write immigration policy,” Davis said in answer to a question on the worries among businesses about finding sufficient unskilled labour. “My job is to get the powers back here so we can decide. That is the first thing to understand. Once you do that, the government will make its decision on how it runs its immigration policy.”
Davis said that any solution would not be immediate and would be up to May and Rudd. He said: “If they go down a route of having work permits for example, typically the way work permits work in other countries is you get to say, try to get a British citizen first and, if you haven’t, then you have got to do that first. There will be tests like that.
“But the other side of this is we have to make sure that our own population are ready and equipped to work, whether it is low-skilled work – and that is about motivation and about commitment to work. If it is higher skilled it is about education, which is why the other part of Theresa’s concerns about society are very important in this context. But at the end of the day nobody is going to have an off switch.”
Article published by - theguardian
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