Memorandum submitted by Universities UK (UKB 9)

 

UK Borders Bill - Public Bill Scrutiny Committee Written Evidence

 

This submission outlines Universities UK's concerns about the potential impact of the UK Borders Bill on international students, international staff and international visitors seeking to come to UK higher education institutions (HEIs). This is the fifth immigration bill since 1997. It is an area where Universities UK feels there has been too much new legislation but limited enactment and enforcement of existing legislation and rules. This note highlights Universities UK's concerns:

 

Background to International Issues and Higher Education

 

1. UK HEIs are major recruiters of international students, major employers of international staff, and hosts for many thousands of international academic visitors and researchers. Immigration issues are of vital importance to them. Competition for international students and staff is increasingly fierce as many countries recognise the contribution of international students and staff to higher education and are seeking to attract these highly talented people to their countries. Thus, the higher education sector has a critical interest in the operation of the immigration system and a critical need to ensure that the system is able to support these important international activities. We are concerned that further legislation in this area could put them at risk.

 

2. HEIs welcome many thousands of highly skilled migrants to the UK every year through a variety of routes. According to the latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency there were 223,900 international (non-EU) students in UK higher education institutions in 2005/06. Some are in the UK for a short period, others may eventually choose to stay and settle in the UK. They make a significant contribution to the UK higher education system and wider UK society.

 

3. In 2004/05, 17.9% of academic staff in UK HEIs were not from the UK with significant numbers from outside the EU. There are no figures available for the number of academic visitors and sponsored researchers who come to the UK but it is likely that many thousands of people enter the UK through these routes each year.

 

Concerns on UK Borders Bill

 

4. Universities UK has a number of possible concerns over this Bill in relation to Clause 5 (biometric registration regulations), Clause 16 (further restrictions on migrants) and Clause 19 (points based applications: no new evidence on appeal).

 

5. In particular we would be grateful if the Committee could probe the answers to the following questions:

 

In relation to Clause 5: what plans the Government has to begin the process of ID card issuing and biometric data capture for foreign nationals already in the UK?

Also in relation to Clause 5: how the current police registration scheme will operate alongside the new requirements for ID cards and biometric data capture?

On Clause 16: what reasons does the Government have for seeking to place further restrictions on migrants around reporting and residence in addition to existing restrictions on employment, no recourse to public funds and requirements to register with the police?

Will provisions in Clause 19 apply to appellants, including international students, who are refused further leave to remain under the points-based system?

 

These issues are covered in further detail below.

 

Clause 5

 

6. This Clause outlines regulations requiring a person subject to immigration control to apply for the issue of a document recording biometric information. Universities UK has concerns about how this would relate to international students and international academic staff. International students and staff will need to be able to go through the process of getting an ID card and the capture of their biometric data in a location near to their place of study or work. For students in particular, any requirement to travel long distances to go through this process will disrupt their studies and necessitate extra expenditure. There are a variety of estimates in the public domain as to the cost to each person of an ID card; it will be important that international students and international academic staff are not faced with high charges for ID cards in addition to charges for visas and visa extensions.

 

7. In the Borders, Immigration and Identity Action Plan announced on the 19th December 2006, the Home Office has indicated that foreign nationals in the UK will be required to have ID cards and provide biometric data from 2008 onwards. Universities UK would like to ask what plans the Government has to begin this process of ID card issuing and biometric data capture for foreign nationals already in the UK and how will this process operate? Will there be centres located in a number of towns and cities in the UK to enable people to gain ID cards and give their biometric data? Can the Government provide any up to date estimates of how much an ID card will cost for an international student or international academic?

 

8. In view of the existence of the police registration scheme that requiring nationals of a specified group of countries to register with the police for a specific fee, Universities UK would like to ask the Home Office how the police registration scheme will operate alongside the new requirements for ID cards and biometric data capture? What additional function will the police registration scheme add that will not be provided by Home Office systems? It will be an additional bureaucratic burden if foreign nationals are forced to go through several different processes that cost them time and money but that overlap in their requirements and objectives. The new points-based system, the identity management system and the e-borders initiative should result in more secure data on migrants in the UK so it is unclear what purpose the police registration scheme will serve.

 

Clause 16

 

9. This Clause outlines proposals for further restrictions on persons subject to immigration control around reporting and residence. Universities UK has concerns about how this would relate to international students and international academic staff.

 

10. Universities UK would like to ask what reasons does the Government have for seeking to place further restrictions on migrants around reporting and residence in addition to existing restrictions on employment, no recourse to public funds and requirements to register with the police? There are already powers that the Government can use to restrict the activities of migrants rather than add further potentially wide-ranging and onerous restrictions.

 

Clause 19

 

11. Universities UK is concerned about the provision outlined in Clause 19 of the Bill to restrict the rights of appellants to provide additional evidence at appeals, against refusal of leave to enter and variation of leave to enter or remain when the application was made under the points-based immigration system. Does this provision apply to appellants refused further leave to remain? If so, it would apply to international students, many of whom find they have to extend their visas in order, for example, to complete a course, transfer to a new course, write up a PhD or attend a graduation ceremony.

 

12. At present there is very limited information on the criteria for the allocation of points under the points-based immigration system or how these points criteria will be weighted. Universities UK is further concerned that the Government is already starting to restrict parts of the points based system before there is full information and understanding of the operation of that system.

 

13. The new points-based system will only start to be implemented early in 2008 with Tier 4 (students) not likely to be implemented until at least February 2009. Is it appropriate for the Government to seek to restrict the rights of visa applicants under a new immigration system before that system is fully developed, explained or even implemented? It would be more appropriate and fair for the new system to be introduced and evaluated as to its effectiveness before steps are taken to restrict visa applicants' rights.

 

14. In addition, during the passage of the Immigration Asylum and Nationality Act, the Government promised that to compensate applicants for Initial Entry Clearance (including students) who lost the right of appeal as a result of that Act, that they would introduce an Administrative Review scheme alongside the new points-based system to provide a recourse if an application were refused as a result of an administrative error. So far the Government has produced no detail of this scheme. Universities UK would be grateful if the Committee could probe Ministers and officials on progress towards developing the Administrative Review Scheme since the passage of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act.

 

February 2007