Minister and Lord clash on UK immigration policy

- Posted in United Kingdom by Dominicon 11 December 2012

The Lord Bilimoria (top) and 
Immigration Minister Mark 
Harper clashed on the BBC's
Daily Politics.

Immigration Minister Mark Harper and the Lord Bilimoria have clashed on the BBC's Daily Politics over UK immigration policy affecting international students and skilled workers.

The Conservative-led coalition Government has made significant changes to UK visa and immigration policy in recent months as part of its aim to reduce net migration to the UK to the 'tens of thousands' by 2015.

Changes have included the introduction of salary thresholds for those wanting to bring partners and families to the UK and the removal of post study work rights for international students.

It is the changes affecting international students which have provoked the sharpest debate; the international education industry in the UK is a world leader which contributes billions to a struggling British economy.

The Government maintains that the changes tackle abuse of the student visa system - foreign citizens who enter the country on a student visa under the pretence of studying but really to work. Critics however, argue that the changes are too blunt.

Are the changes too harsh?

Lord Bilimoria, an Indian-born British businessman and life peer, agrees that changes need to be made to the system, but the Government's intentions are seen much more harshly from prospective migrants.

"I hear what [Mr Harper] is saying about what the Government is trying to say, the reality is the perception of what is being said," said Lord Bilimoria.

"We've had this country built on good immigration. What happened was the previous government lost control of immigration where if you ask the UK Border Agency right now how many illegal immigrants there are in this country they cannot even give you a figure rounded up to the nearest hundred thousand, they haven't a clue. We have lost control of our borders."

"We have still not reintroduced exit controls so we don't even know who's leaving the country; that needs to be brought in urgently."

"And there's a big difference between bad immigration and good immigration. This whole country, we're only 60 million people on a small island we can't have everyone coming here and it's an attractive place to come we're one of the top 10 economies in the world."

"But we need to keep away the bad immigration, that's what we've got to get control of."

The minister said the Government was fully intent on agreeing with the Lord Bilimoria's suggestions. However, Lord Bilimoria, who sits on the board of three UK business schools, criticised the Government's methods of achieving those goals.

"It's the way that you do it, if you want to get rid of the bad immigration, everyone would agree. If you want to get rid of the dodgy colleges and dodgy students, everyone would agree," said the life peer.

"But what happens when you have a blunt, crude immigration cap - it's a mad cap idea - you send out the message with a broad brush - carpet bombing - everyone is affected."

Lord Bilimoria said the application rate from Indian students had 'plummeted' since the changes were introduced - a fact he said was due to the message emanating from the UK being 'Britain doesn't want us'.

The Government's changes to immigration policy culminated in the removal of London Metropolitan University's ability to take in international students - a move the Lord Bilimoria labelled as the actions of a 'police state'.

Are the changes taking effect?

Mr Harper defended the Government's changes, referring to the most recent release of immigration figures which showed net migration to be down for the first time in four years. The figures showed a 26% decrease in the number of international students in the UK but this figure too was defended by the minister.

"The overall number of students coming to our universities is up compared to last year," said the minister, claiming there was a difference between international students and international students studying in British universities.

"What we've done is we've tackled those institutions that were not actually selling education. Our university sector is being protected; the number of applications to come to universities is up.

"The number of students coming to our universities is up, the high quality end of the sector, the best and the brightest, we're seeing those numbers going up so Britain is very much open for business."

- Dominic Ladden-Powell is the Online Editor for the UK Visa Bureau.