The UK Home Secretary Theresa May is making plans to force all the foreign students to leave UK immediately after their studies end. She believes that current rules are being abused as increasing number of students stay back illegally in the UK even after their studies are completed.
Under the present rules, the foreign students are allowed to stay in the country for additional 4 months after their courses end. If they find graduate jobs, they are given the chance to switch from student visas to work visas.
Mrs. May's proposal is being carefully considered for the next Conservative Party manifesto. The proposed plan would mean that students whose visa expires would have to leave the country and re-apply in order to continue studies, or to do graduate jobs.
She wants the colleges and universities which sponsor foreign students to be responsible for ensuring every student's departure. She expressed that the colleges and universities with low departure rates should be fined. According to her, the worst of them should be deprived of their right to sponsor foreign students.
A source from senior Home Office stated that abuse of the system was fuelling net immigration and that the brightest and best students can still come back to the United Kingdom.
It was reported in April that the number of overseas students at UK universities has decreased by 4595 in 1 year. This is the first time decrease in this number was seen in 29 years. Mrs. May understands that the government might not be able to meet the target set by Prime Minister David Cameron to reduce net migration by the next election.
A source close to Home Secretary Theresa May said that:
"Making sure immigrants leave Britain at the end of their visa is as important a part of running a fair and efficient immigration system as controlling who comes here in the first place."
Mrs. May has clashed repeatedly about foreign students with Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, as Mr. Cable's department has responsibility for universities.
Mr. Cable has cautioned that this public debate about immigration can effectively damage the economically valuable recruitment process of foreign students to the Britain.
It was also mentioned that the Liberal Democrats would most likely not support it if the rules were tightened any more. Mr. Cable said that Mrs. May's plan made "zero economic sense" and could ultimately deprive the United Kingdom of highly-skilled graduates.
Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, said:
"Such a blunt instrument would not get our support. The idea that you have people from abroad studying in this country and they become engineers or scientists of huge practical value to the economy, and rather than have them stay here you immediately turf them out makes zero economic sense."
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said that the proposed immigration policy was in chaos. She said:
"More does need to be done to stop people overstaying illegally when their visas run out – whether they arrived on student visas, work visas or tourist visas. But the answer to that isn't to prevent highly skilled overseas graduates getting legal work visas to fill shortages in fields like science or medicine here."