Universities Minister David Willetts told the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee there was “a grey area” over the extent to which new immigration rules would affect genuine students with poor English or dependants.
He said there needed to be a balance between the Government’s pledge to cut net migration while ensuring that the reforms did not damage the UK’s international reputation or its ability to attract “the brightest and the best” from outside the EU. The Government wants to reduce net migration from 200,000 to under 100,000 by 2015 and is targeting student visas, which accounts for two-thirds of non-EU migrants entering the UK each year.
It has published plans to raise the language requirement of students coming into the country to study at below degree level. The Yorkshire Post revealed last week that higher education chiefs in the region were warning that this would stop genuine students from outside the EU from doing foundation year or English courses at a Yorkshire university as a stepping stone to a full degree. Figures from just four universities showed if this route was closed off it would cost the region’s higher education sector up to £15m in lost fees.
Asked if the proposals would just affect bogus students, or whether some genuine students would be caught out too, Mr Willetts said: “This is where there is a fuzzy boundary. This is precisely what we’re exploring with the Home Office at the moment.”
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “This Government wants to ensure that the primary reason for those who enter on a student visa is genuinely to come here to study.
“We will make an announcement in due course.”