Immigration minister Brandon Lewis said there is “no limit on the number of international students who can come to the UK, and nor is there any plan to impose one”. A pilot scheme launched in January 2016 offering easier, longer and cheaper British visas to Chinese citizens is likely to be made permanent, but immigration minister Brandon Lewis has confirmed there is no plan to extend it to Indian citizens in the near future.
Questioned on the issue in the House of Commons by senior Labour MP Virendra Sharma on Monday, Lewis said the situation with India is different from that with China, reflecting Prime Minister Theresa May’s statement in New Delhi in November 2016 that linked improving the UK visa offer to the number and speed of return of illegal Indian citizens in the UK.
To Sharma’s demand that the same visa scheme be extended to India, “our best allies in trade post-Brexit”, Lewis said: “I was in India just a couple of weeks ago and I had some conversations about the pilots we are running in China.
“The honorable gentleman is a little premature, because the pilot with China is still running. It is based on a different situation from the situation with us and India, but we will look at that pilot, and I will feed back after it has ended and we have a chance to review it.”
Answering questions by MPs on removing international students from overall migration statistics – a demand by several stakeholders in higher education and supported by some cabinet ministers – Lewis refused to commit, but said the situation has improved in recent years.
He said: “I can be very clear: there is absolutely no limit on the number of international students who can come to the UK, and nor is there any plan to impose one. What we have seen this summer is that students are now compliant, and that means their effect on the net migration figures is marginal.
“The key thing with students is that, thanks to the work that this government have done since 2010 in shutting down about 920 bogus colleges, students are now complying, so the effect on migration is marginal, at best.”
Indian student numbers coming to UK higher education institutions have dwindled by more than half since 2010, when immigration reforms were introduced by the David Cameron government. In 2012, the post-study work visa popular with Indians was abolished.
There are suggestions that the drop of Indian students is partly due to the closure of bogus colleges, which were recruiting Indian and other international students allegedly for purposes other than education.