The immigration minister, James Brokenshire, announced on Monday that from next month students from outside the European Union who come to study at publicly funded further education colleges will lose the right to work for up to 10 hours a week.
The “new crackdown on visa fraud”, as the Home Office describes it, is aimed at ensuring that student visas are used for study and “not as a backdoor to the country’s job market”.
Further measures will be introduced this autumn, including:
- Reducing the length of further education visas from three years to two.
- Preventing college students from applying to stay on in Britain and work when they finish their course, unless they leave the country first.
- Preventing further education students from extending their studies in Britain unless they are registered at an institution with a formal link to a university.
The number of foreign students at British further education colleges has slumped in recent years from a peak of more than 110,000 in 2011 to 18,297 in the last 12 months.
The fall is partly a result of a squeeze by the home secretary, Theresa May, in an attempt to reduce annual net migration to below 100,000.
Ministers say the fall is also a result of a drive to reduce visa fraud and close down hundreds of privately funded “bogus” colleges.
The latest changes extend restrictions on non-EU students at privately funded colleges to those at publicly funded colleges. It is thought that there are about 5,000 non-EU students at publicly funded colleges, many of them studying for A-levels before applying to British universities.
Brokenshire said there had been signs of increased fraud at some publicly funded colleges and evidence of immigration advisers advertising college visas as a means to work in Britain.
“Immigration offenders want to sell illegal access to the UK jobs market, and there are plenty of people willing to buy,” he said. “Hardworking taxpayers who are helping to pay for publicly funded colleges expect them to be providing top-class education, not a backdoor to a British work visa.”
The Association of Colleges warned that the government measures risked seriously restricting Britain’s ability to attract international students.
“Preventing international FE students continuing to study in the UK after they have finished their studies will limit the progression of students from colleges to universities,” said its chief executive, Martin Doel .
“A-levels and international foundation year courses represent legitimate study routes for international students with many going on to successfully complete degrees at top-ranking universities. In blocking the route from further education to university, the government will do long-term harm to the UK as an international student destination and this policy needs urgent reconsideration.”
He added that the colleges had stringent monitoring systems to check attendance and were keen to see any evidence that they were being used as a back door for bogus students.