HL Deb 11 November 1976 vol 377 cc649-52

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they now have for controlling the entry of overseas students and for monitoring their length of stay.

The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich)

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have no new measures in mind. A revised draft of a joint Home Office/Department of Education and Science circular, prepared by officials within the framework of the Immigration Rules laid before Parliament, proposes to offer guidance to colleges on ways of overcoming difficulties in their selection of overseas students. This draft has been circulated to interested educational and student bodies for comment. It differs only in matters of detail and presentation from earlier draft versions seen by outside bodies, confers no new powers on either entry clearance officers overseas or on Home Office officials, and is primarily concerned to make known to principals of colleges facilities which could be of assistance to them in their sometimes difficult task of selecting from overseas candidates for student places.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. If we are to limit the number of overseas students, it is not important that these should be genuine students undergoing genuine courses, and that at the end of their course they should return to the country from whence they have come in order to give advantage to that country of the education we have been able to furnish and to help that country in its progress and development? Is it not necessary to make sure that there is some monitoring in the Home Office of the students coming here, because otherwise there may be certain people who wish to use this form of entry as a method of jumping the queue for immigrants?


Yes, my Lords; the position is I think quite clear. Certainly we want to ensure that students are genuine students, and indeed all the arrangements which have been made are designed to achieve that objective. So far as any extensions are concerned, the Immigration Rules lay down—I quote: An extension for an appropriate period … may be granted if the applicant produces evidence, which is verified on a check being made, that he has enrolled for a full-time course of daytime study which meets the requirements for admission as a student; that he is giving regular attendance; and that he has adequate funds available for his maintenance and that of any dependants …".


My Lords, I quite agree that there always have been and that there certainly should continue to be regulations governing the entry of students into this country, but would not the Government admit that in practice a great deal, if not everything, depends on the spirit in which these regulations are applied? Would it not, in the view of the Minister, be a good thing if, for instance, he made it clear to the officials concerned that students should be admitted unless there is prima facie reason to exclude them, rather than the reverse principle: namely, that they should be excluded unless they can fulfil all possible qualifications?


My Lords, as I indicated in my first Answer, we have not suggested that we are giving new powers to entry clearance officers, but I think that on all sides of the House there is genuine agreement on this matter. We want to make sure that these people are genuine students.


My Lords, I recognise the necessity for regulations and indeed limitation, but will it also be borne in mind that of all the forms of assistance which we give in the world, none is more valuable, both to those who receive it and to ourselves who give it, than the education which is provided in our colleges and universities for those who come from overseas? There is great benefit not only in terms of the prestige and influence of this country, but also in financial terms from the money that is brought in by those who come here for education.


Yes, my Lords, I entirely agree.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the circular to which he referred seems to be a move in the right direction for selection in order to see that the students who come here are genuine students? But it did not seem to deal with the second half of my noble friend's Question as to monitoring the length of stay. It must be within the recollection of many of us that people who come here originally as students stay on when they are no longer students, and this is a way of evading the immigration restrictions.


My Lords, I did, I hope, give some indication of the answer to that point when I quoted the particular passage of the Immigration Rules which deals with that precise problem.


My Lords, will the Minister make sure that no impediment is placed in the way of students coming from Venezuela at this time?


My Lords, without appreciating the full subtleties of that question, all I can say is that I will look into it.


My Lords, can the Minister say whether the years spent at the university are included in the period of residence required to qualify for British citizenship?


My Lords, I should like to look into that question, but my belief is that they do not. However, before finally committing myself I should like to look into the matter.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that instances have occurred of overseas students staying for as long as seven or eight years in this country? Ought there not to be some tightening up of the monitoring procedure so that students who have stayed here beyond a period of, say, five years should have to be registered as bona fide postgraduate students?

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that while it is plainly necessary to monitor certain cases of evasion and of taking advantage of entry here, it is highly desirable to encourage students to come, and that in our desire to exclude a few undesirable people, or inadequately qualified people, we should not give the impression that we do not wish students to come here from overseas?


Yes, my Lords, I entirely agree with that. There are two points I should like to emphasise. First, I am sure that it is agreed on both sides of the House that we do not want abuse of the system. Clearly there is no advantage in that. Secondly, we want to offer in the future, as we have in the past, a warm welcome to the many students from both the Commonwealth and outside who come to this country. We are delighted to have them with us.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that in my first supplementary question I in fact said how welcome students were and what an admirable investment it was by way of good will and future liaison with this country? Is he also aware that in an earlier Question I asked what percentage stayed here and what percentage went back, and that I was told that there were no statistics available at all? This suggests that at the moment the monitoring is somewhat loose and needs some attention, because the greater the number of genuine students who go back the better for the countries from which they came.


My Lords, I take note of what the noble Lord has said, but I must point out to him that if one is talking about exceptionally detailed monitoring arrangements one is talking about the recruitment of a very substantial number of additional civil servants.

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