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UK student visa abuses exaggerated

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Earlier this month a number of media organisations reported on Home Office statistics showing that one in five international students remains in the UK after their initial visa has expired.

Several newspapers described the former students as "overstayers", implying they remained in the UK illegally.

This drew fire from Dominic Scott, chief executive of the UK Council for International Student Affairs, yesterday.

Writing in the Guardian, he notes: "[The media reports] suggested abuse of the system, instead of compliance, and missed the key conclusion: that of all the categories tracked, students were, in fact, the least likely to be here after five years and the least likely to apply for settlement."

He continues: "Another way of putting this is that the vast majority (79%) go home and ... of the others, almost a third [remain], quite legitimately, in education (on long courses such as medicine, or a series of courses, such as from A-levels to a degree). And the remainder ... , again quite legitimately, either married British citizens or applied for, and have been issued with, visas to work here."

Scott reserves special criticism for immigration minister Damian Green. He suspects Mr Green "briefed" the media to stoke fears about immigration "to give the impression that international students are in some way part of our economic or social problems."

He uses the remainder of his article to extol the virtues of the UK education sector and emphasize the strict requirements placed on foreign students staying here.

"They have, by law, highly restricted rights to work and no access to state benefits. They therefore place no burden on public services: they come to learn, not earn."

Moreover, foreign students have to prove that they have the funds to pay their fees plus £7,200 in cash for the first nine months of studies (in London) or £5,400 (outside London).

They are also "tracked by location," in the sense that their visas are "tied" to the institutions which offered them a place to study and which makes it a criminal offence to study elsewhere.

Significantly, foreign students contribute around £8bn annually to the British economy. "Our universities and colleges survive, prosper and expand because of them," says Scott.

He concludes: "All of us realise there are concerns on immigration, but we must be very careful not to jeopardise these earnings, these links and this global reputation."

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