Immigration Bill — Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:42 pm on 10th February 2014.

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Photo of Lord Bilimoria Lord Bilimoria Crossbench 4:42 pm, 10th February 2014

My Lords, over the past weeks, I have received numerous requests by journalists from around the world because one of the seven schools that I attended was the Hyderabad Public School. The 46-year-old chief executive officer of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, also attended the Hyderabad Public School. He then went to the United States for his education and is now heading one of the world’s largest companies, with a market cap of $340 billion.

Earlier this afternoon, I attended a talk by the Governor-General of Canada, David Johnston. A huge part of his speech was about education and about

Canada wanting to attract the best students from around the world. Like me, he came as a foreign student to Cambridge to read law. Is it not sad that, on 16 January, the

Times Higher Education Supplement carried the headline “Overseas student total falls ‘for first time’ as Indian numbers collapse”? It went further and stated that,

“the number of non-EU students at UK universities fell by 1 per cent last year, the first such decline ever recorded”.

An NUS survey of more than 3,000 international students conducted in January found that 51% of non-EU students thought the UK Government unwelcoming. Meanwhile, in Canada, the Government aim to double the number of international students in Canadian educational institutions by 2022, raising the total to 450,000 yearly. In Australia, more than 74,000 student visa applications were lodged in the September 2013 quarter, 7.1% higher than the same period in 2012 and the highest for this quarter in the past four years. In France, the Government have moved to simplify the visa application process and to double the number of Indian students studying at French universities. Does the Minister have a target for increasing the number of foreign students in the UK, let alone of Indian students?

The Russell group has reported that the intakes of postgraduate students from India at its institutions dropped by 21% in 2011-12, with a further drop of 18% in 2012-13. Even the growth rate in new students from China has started to taper off. Meanwhile, postgraduate student numbers to the United States increased by 40% in 2013. Visas granted to Indian students across all levels in Australia have risen by 22% in the past year, following the introduction of a more open immigration policy, and visas granted to Indian students in Canada rose by 8% in 2012.

The Prime Minister talks about Britain having to take part in a global race yet the Government’s insistence is on following this madcap immigration cap policy and targeting bringing down the immigration level to the tens of thousands. This is shooting ourselves in the foot. What are the Government thinking of? Why do the Government keep including student numbers in the immigration figures when Canada, Australia and the United States—our immediate competitors—do not? Does the Minister agree that we should exclude foreign student numbers from the immigration figures? The Government might then hit their target but they should not do it for that reason: they should do it because this policy is sending out the wrong messages. The Prime Minister has said that there is no limit to the number of students that we want to come to study in the United Kingdom—I have heard him say that myself—so why are the Government not following the example of our counterparts in Canada and setting a target to double the number of foreign students coming into the United Kingdom?

In contrast, let us look at what is happening over here. The number of Indian students has fallen by 25% and the overall non-EU enrolment of overseas students has dropped from 173,560 to 171,910. The Government are sending out a negative message: that Britain does not want foreign students. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to the perception of reality. The perception has become reality and the Government have been bringing out ridiculous ideas. When the idea of a £3,000 bond for foreign visitors was floated, it did not take long before the Government backtracked. However, it sent shockwaves around the world. I kept getting asked about this on every visit to India. Then the Government had the amazing idea of having vans going around the UK saying “Illegal immigrants go home”. I do not like quoting Nigel Farage but even he—a man perceived to be entirely anti-immigration—said:

“I think the actual tone of the billboards is nasty, unpleasant, Big Brother”.

There you have it.

There is no question that a lot needs to be done to reform immigration in this country. Illegal immigration is out of control. The noble Lord, Lord King, asked whether we know the numbers. Have we lost control of our borders? I think we have. The UK Border Agency was not fit for purpose and has been disbanded. Can the Government tell us the number of illegal immigrants in this country? I will let the Government round it up to the nearest 100,000 but I bet that they could not even give a figure. They do not even know whether it is half a million or a million. The coalition Government have given a manifesto commitment to reintroduce exit controls and there is matter in the Bill to address this. However, the Government should bring in mandatory scanning of all passports when people leave this country—whether they are British, EU or non-EU—and scan them when they come in. The technology is there for us to know who has come in, who has left and who has stayed when they should not be staying. We could then control illegal immigration. Why are the Government not doing that? The e-Borders programme is a step towards that but we could get to that step right now.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, the Government are right to crack down on sham marriages, but they are wrong to bring in landlord controls and ask the landlords to do the job of the border authority. Even the Minister responsible for the Bill, Mark Harper, could not find out the status of his own cleaner when he had tried hard to do so. This is impractical and I fear that it will be another government U-turn.

The proposed NHS fees are unwelcoming. As a former foreign student in this country, I know how expensive it is to study here. The average international student will spend something in the region of £75,000 during a three-year degree programme. A PhD student coming in with a spouse and children could pay thousands of pounds in advance for this. These fees will seem like a penalty charge and could be a powerful disincentive. In a survey carried out by the National Union of Students, 74% of the non-EU students surveyed, who would be subject to the charge, said that an additional charge of £150 per year of study would make it more difficult or impossible for them to study in the UK. The Minister said that the figure is only 1%, but the perception, unfortunately, is the reality. More than 82% of those with dependants say that free access to the NHS was important in their choice to study in the UK. The current visa fees are really expensive in any case and the Government have just announced a 40% increase for some additional family members. Why do we need NHS charges? Most students are young and healthy and do not use the NHS much. The Government have been penny wise and pound foolish.

On the matter of the appeals process and the changes proposed in this Bill, Universities UK notes that more than 50% of appeals by students are successful. If these measures are brought in they will be deprived. In the House in 2007 I initiated a debate on the two-year post-study work visa. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, was the Education Minister answering at the time. He listened, the Government responded, it was brought in and we saw international student numbers go up. Even the Business Secretary disagrees with government policy on this. Vince Cable has said that around £17 billion is generated each year by universities, £10 billion of which comes from overseas students through their fees and expenditure. At last year’s Liberal Democrat party conference he warned that a lot of students who would normally come to Britain would go instead to America and Australia where they thought a “warmer welcome” would be given to them.

If students here want to work after this expensive education it is important for them to be able to pay for it, gain work experience, pay some taxes, and build the generation-long links with this country and their countries—and on the whole they go back to them. Three generations of my family have studied in this country. Moosung Lee, a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota, notes that 27% of world leaders have been educated in the United States. The Americans are streets ahead of us. We are missing out as a result of this and we need to start thinking long term. Shutting down the bogus colleges was good, but we do not need to create a perception that what was true for them is true for our good universities as well.

My recommendations are as follows. First, student figures should be removed from the immigration figures to send out a clear message that we do not include them in the Government’s madcap immigration cap target. Secondly, a system in which everyone’s passports will be scanned in and out of the country, at all ports of entry, should be introduced as soon as possible. Thirdly, the Government should bring back the post-study work visa. The mechanism at the moment is not fit for purpose. Can the Minister tell me how many graduates have taken up work after they have graduated under the new scheme that the Government have initiated? Fourthly, NHS charges for students should not be brought in. Students are spending huge amounts of money here already. A fee of £150 a year is a classic example of being penny wise and pound foolish. Fifthly, the Government should scrap the ridiculous and impractical idea of landlords having to make checks on foreign nationals and especially students. Landlords are not immigration officials. Finally, the Government should reform the appeals process that is already flawed. They should not be bringing in a system that will make it worse. Already 50% of appeals by students are successful.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, Britain is a most amazingly fair and just country. London is the most cosmopolitan city in the world. Recently, I led a debate to mark the 150th anniversary of the Zoroastrian

Trust Funds of Europe to ask Her Majesty’s Government how they have recognised and supported the role and contribution of faith and minority communities in Britain during Her Majesty’s reign. All of us who spoke in that debate were able to give scores of examples of the amazing contribution that immigrants have given to this country. We would not be where we are without the contribution of immigration. On the other hand, we know that people abuse this country’s generosity and the Government must clamp down on those excesses. However, the Government now have a system that creates negative perceptions and unfortunately those perceptions have become reality. The Government must stop going down this path before it is too late and this wonderful country is permanently damaged.