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11.54 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Barbara Roche): I thank the hon. Gentleman for the manner in which he introduced this short but important debate. I am grateful for his kind remarks, and I appreciate that hon. Members do not introduce Adjournment debates, especially on such a subject, unless they feel particularly strongly about the case in question. I have dealt with the hon. Gentleman on a number of similar matters, and I know that he feels strongly about them. I know from the correspondence that he initiated that he has pursued the case of Miss Sabadus with considerable interest.

As the hon. Gentleman explained, his ambition for Miss Sabadus and for the people who clearly feel that she is a person of exceptional ability is for her to be allowed to start working as a journalist in the United Kingdom or to be enrolled as a student on a journalism course. It is clear from what the hon. Gentleman said that she has a distinguished background in her studies in that area. I entirely understand her desire to come to the United Kingdom for a worthwhile career.

However, the immigration rules, which are the same as those that pertained under the Government of whom the hon. Gentleman was a member, are clear. A person who

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is a visa national, as is Miss Sabadus, and who wishes to come to the United Kingdom for any purpose must hold the appropriate entry clearance when he or she enters the country.

The hon. Gentleman is right about the purpose of those rules. When Miss Sabadus applied for and was issued with an entry clearance, she came under the Home Office concession for voluntary workers. She advised the entry clearance officer in Bucharest that she had recently obtained her degree in journalism and wished to come to the UK in order to gain experience of the English language. That has been confirmed by the hon. Gentleman this evening.

Had Miss Sabadus informed the entry clearance officer that she intended to study or gain work experience in her chosen profession while in the UK, it is likely that her application for entry clearance as a voluntary worker would have been refused. As the hon. Gentleman knows from his experience in government, as well as from his constituency experience, consideration is given to the purpose for which the application is made.

If Miss Sabadus had mentioned that she wanted to become a student, she would have been advised how to apply for the correct entry clearance as a student; had she wanted to work, she would have been informed about the work permit system. It would have been for her to satisfy the requirements of the immigration rules in that respect.

As the House knows, a person who wants to take employment in the United Kingdom must hold the necessary work permit issued by the Department for Education and Employment before arriving in the country. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has been modernising the work permit arrangements to ensure that procedures for employers are simplified and that the system reflects the United Kingdom and global labour markets. We are in a period where capital is extremely mobile, and skilled labour, too, is increasingly mobile. No doubt the hon. Gentleman would agree that work permit arrangements should reflect the desire of employers for flexibility.

Miss Sabadus arrived in the UK as a voluntary worker and has leave to remain in the country until 31 March. A condition of her leave to enter is that she may not take any other form of employment, paid or unpaid, during her stay. If she does so, she will be in breach of her conditions of stay and will be expected to leave the country. She clearly wants to do things properly, which we appreciate. At present, she has not made a formal application for further leave to remain.

The hon. Gentleman was right to refer to the no-switching rule. He was right to outline the reasons why the rule is there. Unfortunately, it is there because, on a number of occasions, the system has been open to abuse by people who have switched from one category to another so that they could prolong their stay when they had no basis for doing so.

In this particular case, there do not appear to be any compelling circumstances that would justify the granting of leave to remain exceptionally outside the immigration rules. Nor, on the evidence provided, do there appear to be any compassionate reasons why Miss Sabadus cannot return home when she has completed her time here as a voluntary worker. That is not to say that she is not a lady of considerable potential and ability, as the hon. Gentleman made clear. That has been recognised by

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numbers of people in the United Kingdom, and Miss Sabadus clearly has impressive qualifications in her own country. However, the tests for Ministers and officials are those compelling and compassionate grounds. Saying that they are not present in this particular case is no reflection on the applicant's abilities.

If Miss Sabadus has found a prospective employer, he or she should apply for a work permit on her behalf, but Miss Sabadus will be expected to leave the United Kingdom by 31 March, when her stay as a voluntary worker expires. If an employer wants to do that and makes an application, Miss Sabadus will then need to obtain an entry clearance from the entry clearance officer in Bucharest, and she will be expected to meet the requirements of the immigration rules. She may also want to study in the UK. Again, she will have to show the entry clearance officer in Romania that she has been accepted for a full-time course of study and has sufficient funds to maintain and accommodate herself.

The hon. Gentleman was right to refer to the Prime Minister's initiative on overseas students. The whole House would agree that it is in the great interests of the UK that as many bona fide students as possible should come to the UK to study. That is because, first, we expect them to receive a first-class education here and, secondly,

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it is important for economic and cultural ties. As the hon. Gentleman outlined in his helpful remarks, it is very important indeed for people to go away with a positive impression of the UK. It is important for people, who, one day, may be extremely distinguished in their own countries, to have a favourable view of the time that they may have spent as students in the UK.

All those options are open to Miss Sabadus. However, in these particular circumstances, she must obey the rules, which are waived very exceptionally in the most compelling and compassionate circumstances. She must return to her country and make an appropriate application for entry clearance. I am sure that people who follow our deliberations will read the remarks that the hon. Gentleman and I have made. Of course, as I have said, the rules and requirements must be met and bona fides have to be examined. However, there is no doubt that the hon. Gentleman and those who have backed this applicant feel strongly and sincerely about her case, which they have pursued vigorously. I am sure that all those factors will be taken into consideration by an entry clearance officer, should any application be made in future.

Question put and agreed to.

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