Theresa May's curbs on foreign students are 'a silly idea', say Liberal Democrats

Theresa May wants non-EU students to return home after finishing courses

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Indy Politics

Plans by Theresa May to force students from outside the European Union to leave Britain at the end of their courses and apply for new visas from abroad provoked anger and condemnation yesterday.

The Home Secretary is pressing for the policy to be included in next year’s Conservative general election manifesto. It will be opposed by Labour and the Tories’ Liberal Democrat Coalition partners and will cause dismay in the Treasury and the Business Department because of the revenue generated by overseas students.

Supporters of the move point to figures showing that 121,000 non-EU students entered Britain in the year to June, but only 51,000 left.

They argue that it is easy to switch to a work visa once a student has completed his or her course and that reapplying from overseas would tackle abuse of the system.


Ms May’s proposal, which comes amid feuding between her aides and the Tory high command, came under heavy fire today. A senior Liberal Democrat source said the party had blocked a similar “silly idea” at the start of the Coalition. He said: “Why invest in and train up these bright foreign young people to be engineers, scientists, computer programmers and alike to then turf them out of the country when they are ready to work and make a significant contribution to our country? It makes no economic sense.”

Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, said Ms May was “flailing around with her immigration policy in chaos”. Ms Cooper 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.”

Kenneth Clarke blames the feuding about immigration on ministers’ ‘entourages’ (PA)

Sunder Katwala, the director of the British Future think-tank, said: “A crackdown on foreign students would be a pretty unpopular form of populist politics. The research shows clearly that most people think international students are good for Britain.”

Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of Universities UK, said: “Clamping down on genuine international students would not only damage our universities, but would also damage our economy.”

She said: “Such proposals would risk increasing the perception the UK does not welcome international students. These are damaging proposals.”

A difficult few weeks for Ms May, with a succession of grim headlines over immigration, has been capped by the disclosure of squabbling between her aides and Downing Street. Two senior advisers, Nick Timothy and Stephen Parkinson, have been removed from the Tory list of approved general election candidates. They were officially dropped for failing to campaign in last month’s Rochester and Strood by-election, but many MPs have interpreted the action as punishment for perceived disloyalty to David Cameron.

It was reported today that George Osborne, who could face Ms May as a leadership rival if the Tories lose the election, was behind the move. An ally of the Chancellor denied the suggestion.

The former Tory Cabinet minister Kenneth Clarke called for the feuding groups to be reined in. “Somebody should stop all the entourages falling out with each other,” he told BBC 1’s Andrew Marr Show. “The relations between the people themselves are very good.”

He also warned of the dangers of trying to find simple solutions to the complex issue of immigration. He said: “It’s very difficult to debate immigration, which is why I do agree that the major parties have tended slightly to avoid it, because it runs away, it becomes almost hysterical quite rapidly in the public debate. Our problem is illegal immigration.” He said he did not agree immigration was the cause of housing shortages or pressure on hospitals.