Britain tightens student visa system
London - Britain unveiled tough new visa rules on Tuesday that will cut the number of foreign students and their dependents by 100 000 a year, as Prime Minister David Cameron seeks to slash immigration levels.
Home Secretary Theresa May said the clampdown involved new procedures to vet colleges from April next year, a higher requirement for students to speak English and tighter restrictions on their ability to work while they are here.
"This package will stop the bogus students studying meaningless courses at fake colleges," she told the House of Commons.
May said she expected the measures to slash the number of visas for non-European Union students issued each year by 70 000 or 80 000 - about 25%.
Officials said the number of dependants coming to Britain would likely fall by about 20 000 under new rules on students bringing their families with them.
Cameron has promised to reduce net immigration to Britain from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands by the next election in 2015, and ministers view the student visa system as particularly ripe for reform.
About 300 000 student visas were issued in 2009, May said, adding that a government review had revealed "widespread abuse".
Need to speak English
Under the new rules, educational institutions will be vetted and if they fail, they will be closed down.
Students will also have to demonstrate a higher grasp of English to study at degree level, and UK Border Agency staff will be able to refuse entry to those who cannot speak English without an interpreter.
"Let me be clear," May said. "You need to speak English to learn at our education establishments. If you can't, we won't give you a visa."
Lawmakers have expressed concerns that the new measures could hit a vibrant sector hard, noting that the training and education of international students is worth up to £40bn a year.
But May said the new reforms "will protect our world-class institutions. It will stop the abuse that became all too common under [the former government led by] Labour. And it will restore some sanity to our student visa system".
Currently all students on long courses can bring their families with them but the new rules will restrict this to post-graduate students at universities and government-sponsored further education colleges.
Last year, more than 31 000 student dependants arrived in Britain.
The right to work during term time will also be removed from all students except those at university or at publicly funded colleges.
And the option available to non-EU students to stay for two years to find work after graduation will be taken away from April next year, with only those offered a skilled job paying more than £20 000 being able to stay.