The work of the UK Border Agency (December 2011-March 2012) - Home Affairs Committee Contents


5  Immigration

Key figures
  • 50% of the visas issued in 2011were student visas (excluding visitor visas)
  • £7.9bn was the value of the UK's share in the international higher education market in 2099[32]
  • 57% of student visas (excluding student visit visas) were issued to students from China, Pakistan, India, the USA and Nigeria in 2011
  • 100% of Tier 1, 2 and 5 visa applications were processed within 12 weeks in Q1 2012
  • 99% of Tier 4 visa applications were processed within 12 weeks in Q1 2012
  • 142% - increase in family-related immigration casework between February and March 2012
  • 77% - increase in employment-related immigration casework between February and March 2012

Number of visas issued

44. The Agency issued 2,272,371 visas in 2011.[33] By far the largest category was for visit visas, of which 1,740,694 were issued.[34] The breakdown of non-visit visas issued by category to main and dependant applicants is shown in the chart below.


Figure 6: settlement visas issued in 2011[35]

45. We note that:

  • Tier 4 (adult students) account for the largest number, 50%, of non-visit visas;
  • Tier 2 employment route visas are the second largest category accounting for 13% of the total; and
  • students visitors, who take short study courses in the UK, account for 12% of the total.

46. We are pleased to see that students remain a core part of the migrant flow into the UK. The UK has a market in international higher education worth £7.9bn and it is important that we continue to encourage this sector to flourish. The Prime Minister's aim to reduce migration from "the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands" cannot be achieved without drastically reducing the number of people who come to study in Britain.[36] It is likely that this would damage a strong sector of our economy and also the cultural diversity of our universities. We recommend that the government should exclude students from their net migration target. This will enable the government to encourage students to come to the UK whilst maintaining their position on curbing immigration. It is important that the UK does not fall behind its international competitors in this market by making the itself a less attractive option for international students. We do not believe that the UK would benefit if the government achieved its aim of reducing the number of student visas issued by 25%.

Student visas: nationality

47. 57% of student visas (excluding student visit visas) are issued to students from five countries, with China accounting for the largest number of students at around 52,000. Pakistan and India follow closely, with around 35,000 each.

Country
Number
% of total
China
52,485
20.1
Pakistan
35,664
13.6
India
34,826
13.3
United States
14,475
5.5
Nigeria
12,115
4.6
Other Countries
111,769
42.8
Total
261,334
100

Table 4: Student visas granted by largest 5 nationality groups[37]

48. In order to maintain public confidence in the immigration system it is important that only genuine students are able to come to the UK via the student route. Between December 2011 and February 2012 the Agency ran a pilot scheme of face to face interviews for student visa applicants in 47 countries. The results of this pilot have been widely reported in the press for months but the Home Office did not officially release the results until 9 July. Official results show that 17% of those interviewed were refused a visa under existing powers and that entry clearance officers would have liked to refuse up to 32% on the grounds that they did not believe their applications were genuine. As a result of the pilot face-to-face interviews will be conducted with between 10,000 and 14,000 student visa applicants over the coming year.[38] We welcome this development, which is in keeping with previous recommendations from this Committee. We recommend the Agency makes face to face interviews compulsory for all foreign students where it is practical and appropriate to do so. The option of an online interview could overcome problems with distance. This will deal with concerns before the students enter the UK, not after. This will uphold public confidence in the immigration system and help to counter damaging Government rhetoric which conflates a reduction in the number of student visas with eliminating fraud in the system.

Visa processing times

49. The Agency's customer service standards state that it will process 90% of non-settlement visa applications within three weeks, 98% within six weeks and 100% within 12 weeks.
Total applications
% completed

in 3 weeks
% completed

in 6 weeks
% completed

in 12 weeks
Tier 1
7,699
94
98
100
Tier 2
16,746
98
99
100
Tier 4
26,189
91
98
99
Tier 5
11,959
98
100
100

Table 5: % of visas processed within customer service standards in Q1 2012

The Agency met nearly all of its targets for processing visas in Q1 2012. The target was only missed on one occasion in Tier 4 by 1 percentage point.
Total applications
% completed

in 3 weeks
% completed

in 6 weeks
% completed

in 12 weeks
Tier 1
4,860
93
99
100
Tier 2
14,929
98
100
100
Tier 4
30,165
84
87
88
Tier 5
7,257
98
99
100

Table 6 % of visas processed within customer service standards in Q4 2011

The Agency met all of its targets in Tiers 1, 2 and 5 in Q4 2011, missing them only in Tier 4.

50. We note that the Agency has improved its processing times for Tier 4 visa applications in the first quarter of this year and is consistently meeting its targets. We expect to continue to see a strong performance from the Agency in this area.

Immigration casework in progress

51. The number of immigration cases being worked on by the Agency is shown in the table and figure 7 below.
Case Type
Oct-11
Nov-11
Dec-11
Jan-12
Feb-12
Mar-12
Temporary routesFamily
6,638
7,433
7,626
7,820
7,729
18,674
Employment
6,173
10,328
11,238
9,924
10,092
17,837
Study
25,829
24,709
18,580
15,437
14,943
17,431
Visiting the UK
144
203
241
305
265
345
PermanentPermanent Residence
9,240
9,618
9,910
14,415
17,958
18,938
Euro (inc ECAA and A2)
18,929
20,037
20,576
23,387
23,046
28,737


Figure 7 Temporary and permanent immigration casework in progress[39]

52. As Figure 7 shows clearly there has been a substantial increase in the number of immigration cases in progress. Since the beginning of the last quarter, October 2011, there has been an:

  • 181% increase family route immigration casework;
  • 189% increase in employment related immigration casework; and
  • 140% increased in casework connected to temporary visits

The largest increases took place between February and March this year when family route casework increased by 142% and employment route casework increased by 77%.

53. The Agency tell us that the increase in casework in March has been caused by an increase in applications under the Tier 1 Post Study Route and intensive work to curtail the leave of non-compliant students.[40] We recognise that the changes to the family route may have precipitated an increase in applications before the changes come into force, but we are concerned that resource is being concentrated in some areas at the expense of others and we will expect evidence on this point when Mr Whiteman next appears before the Committee. We hope that in its efforts to address individual problem areas the Agency is not causing backlogs to build in others.

Progress against net migration targets

  1. The Quarterly Immigration Report, last released in May 2012 shows that the government is making slow progress in reducing immigration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. Net migration for the year up to September 2011 was 252,000, this is only a reduction of 3,000 people from the previous year when the overall net figure was 255,000.[41]



32   Universities UK, letter to the Prime Minister, 30 May 2012, www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/Newsroom Back

33   This includes both main applicants and dependents. Back

34   Size of 'other' category visas contains all temporary visas and a small number of 'Other settlement' visas. 'Visitor' visas account for more than 96% of applications and resolutions in this category. Back

35   Home Office Immigration Statistics, January-March 2012, before entry tables, be.01, http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/science-research-statistics/

Note: A student visitor is and adult undertaking a short course of study in the UK, such as a beginner's English Language course or a work-related training course.  Back

36   HC Deb, 23 November 2010, col. 169 Back

37   Home Office Immigration Statistics, January-March 2012, before entry tables, be.06.s, http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/science-research-statistics Back

38   Home Office written statement to Parliament, on Student visa interviews and genuine student rule, 9 July 2012 Back

39   Ev 57 Back

40   Ev 57 Back

41   Migration Statistics Quarterly Report, May 2012, http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/science-research-statistics Back


 
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Prepared 23 July 2012