Foreign students must 'benefit the economy'

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The Independent Online

Severe restrictions will be imposed on the number of foreign students allowed into Britain so the Conservatives can meet their pledge to cut net migration to tens of thousands a year.

The clampdown may allow the Government to bow to pressure from business to relax the squeeze on skilled workers from outside the EU who can enter the UK. Skilled migrants with specific job offers will be given priority over highly skilled workers without a job to take up.

In her first major speech on immigration since becoming Home Secretary, Theresa May said yesterday that being able to settle in Britain should be a cherished right and not an "automatic add-on" for migrants who enter the country temporarily to study or work.

Almost half of all foreign students study a course below degree level. "We have to question whether these are the brightest and the best that Britain wants to attract – they may be, or they may not," Ms May told the Policy Exchange think tank.

Students whose visas expired after they attended privately funded colleges were much more likely not to have left the country than their counterparts in universities. "While we need to preserve our world-class universities, we need to stop abuses," she said.

The Home Secretary said students who graduate in the UK were effectively free to enter the labour market and look for skilled work. Last year, 38,000 did so.

"I want a system where we continue to attract the top students to our top universities. A system where well-equipped students come here to study and at the end of their period of study return to their country of origin. And a system where we only let in those students who can bring an economic benefit to Britain's institutions and can support Britain's economic growth," she said.

Last year, 81,000 people who came to the UK to work were granted settlement. "We can reduce net migration without damaging our economy. We can attract more of the brightest and the best [and also] reduce the overall number," Ms May said.

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