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Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I, too, would like to address issues relating to the higher education sector. I should declare an interest as having been an academic for most of my life and still being a visiting fellow at the University of Sussex. I want to speak specifically about issues relating to students in Clause 1, which will remove the right of in-country appeal for international students who are refused extensions to visas; in Clause 4, which will remove the right of appeal to international students who are refused visa extensions; and in Clause 11, which will remove the rights of those whose leave to remain expires while they are applying for a visa extension to remain in the UK until consideration of the application has been completed. Those issues have already been mentioned by several noble Lords, notably, the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick.
It is important to recognise how many applications are involved. In 2004, 51 per cent of the applications for appeal came from students; 30 per cent of all international students need to extend their visas for various reasons. Many of them need to do so because they are writing PhDs and need more time to complete their study. As my noble friend Lord Wallace, said, the length of time taken to write a thesis in this country is relatively variable, we hope. Our research councils put a lot of emphasis on completion within three years, but many students find it difficult to complete their
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research study and write it up within three years. Four and sometimes five years is a usual time for students to take to write a PhD. It is not predictable in advance. For that reason, students have to apply for extension to their visas when that happens.
Many students come here initially for further education, to complete access courses for higher education and then want to go on from a further education college to a university and, again, need to apply for an extension to their visa. Sometimes a student wants to stay on for a graduation ceremonyfor a matter of only three months or so. It is a little hard to have to go home and apply from their home country to come back for graduation. Sometimes students' initial visas are too short. Many students coming over to do PhDs are given only a one-year visa because it is thought that it is more appropriate for them to do a masters degree. Many universities require a masters degree as a preliminary to going on to a PhD. So there are natural reasons why students need to change or extend their visa requirements.
I understand that the aim of Clauses 1 and 11 is to create a one-stop shop in the system of appeal. In the first place, such appeals must be made outside the UK and, secondly, those whose leave to stay expires while they are in the process of applying immediately become illegal overstayers, with all that that implies. As an illegal overstayer, when they leave the country, their passport will be stamped. It will be on record that they have been an illegal overstayer and that will prejudice any future application for a visa. So it is a "Catch 22" situation.
Clause 4, which will remove the right of appeal for all international students on initial entry clearance, with the exception of when they are visiting families or dependent relatives, again presents a difficult issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, gave several graphic instances of the subjectiveness of decisions made by entry clearance officers. The briefing that we have been given by Universities UK lists several other cases. She cited two personal cases that had come through the UUK system, but there have been cases where the entry clearance officer said that they did not believe that the student had applied for an appropriate course of study; where the entry clearance officer doubted that the student would complete the course or return to their home country; where the entry clearance officer believes that the cost of the course is not commensurate with the benefit that the students will receive; where the entry clearance officer believes that the cost of the course will impose an additional financial burden on the student's familya case mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwickor where the entry clearance officer does not believe that the course is appropriate for the student.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, said, all those things are highly subjective. We hope that the process by which entry clearance officers judge those things will be improved. We are told that they are being trained and that it will be a much improved procedure. They have already been roundly criticised by both the National Audit Office and the independent assessor for how the system operates. We hope that
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they improve their procedures, but it is idealistic to think that their procedures will overnight move from being so subjective to being 100 per cent right. Indeed, in the other place, the Minister concerned, Tony McNulty, admitted that 100 per cent objectivity was a fool's errandit cannot be. Why are we denying those students what I would argue to be natural justice? They should have the right of appeal.
We recognise that there have been difficulties with some institutionsthe noble Baroness, Lady Flather, mentioned thisthat set themselves up as institutions of higher education, language colleges, or whatever. The Minister should recognise that bona fide universities have no objection to quality assurance processes being required. When universities of high quality say that they have a PhD student who needs an extra six months to complete a PhD, why should that be doubted by the Home Office? Why should it doubt the word of our universities in that way?
I echo what has already been said. International students in this country give us a great deal. They help to provide the diversity, the liveliness and the vivacity of our higher education institutions. They bring in a great deal of income for our higher education institutions. The Government are fully aware of that. With the Prime Minister's initiative in 1999 to extend the number of international students, we have been successful and have been celebrating our success in bringing in more international students. But a combination of increasing visa charges, imposing very tough requirements on visa renewals and applications, and denying what seems to be natural justice, will not attract foreign students to this country. Some noble Lords have mentioned that we are falling back and losing students from China and south-east Asia. Knowledge of what is proposed in this Bill has already spread among international students. It will go through the international student grapevine and will do us no good whatever. These clauses should be amended and I hope that they will be.
Finally, as someone who does not normally speak on Home Office Bills, I now find myself wearing my higher education hat involved with two Billsthe Terrorism Bill and the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill. On both counts, there is great tension between the traditions of our traditionally tolerant British society, which over the years has provided a haven for refugees from many persecutionsfrom the Huguenots, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, to those fleeing Hitler's death camps in the 1930s. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford said, because travel is so easy we have many people knocking on our doors who come from much further afield than before. I echo the words of the right reverend Prelate: we should aim to treat people from other countries as we would expect to be treated; we should accord them natural justice; and we should treat them with openness, transparency and humanity.
Lord Chan: My Lords, I support the policy of managed migration that underpins this Bill. However,
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the introduction of a new system where appeals will not be permitted will clearly create enormous problems that will have serious consequences that the drafters of the Bill had not thought about. Examples of serious consequences were brought to my attention with considerable passion in the past two weeks when I met members of the Chinese communityin particular, people working in the food catering industry and overseas students. I think that this is the first time that the Chinese community in Britain has come to Parliament to object to a government Bill. Clearly, the proposal to remove the right of appeal before improving the quality of decisions for visas to enter and remain in the United Kingdom is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said, putting the cart before the horse.
I am particularly concerned that Clause 1 removes the right of in-country appeal for workers in Chinese food catering and for students from China and south-east Asian countries who are refused extensions to existing visas. Clause 11 removes measures which ensure that applicants whose leave expires while they are making an application for an extension to their visa or appealing against the refusal of such an extension can legally remain in the United Kingdom until those processes are complete. The disadvantages of those two clauses have been well described and probed by a number of noble Lords. Clause 4, which removes the right of appeal for applicants wanting to work in the Chinese food industry in Britain and for students from China and south-east Asian countries who are refused visas to enter the United Kingdom, is yet another clause for contention.
I turn now to the employment of foreign workers in food catering. The Chinese food catering industry began in the 1960s and 1970s when people from the New Territories in Hong Kong were invited to set up business here. That led to the development today of about 10,000 takeaway food shops and 5,000 Chinese restaurants. I understand that, together, they make an annual contribution of about £1 billion to Her Majesty's Treasury. That significant contribution to the national economy is in danger of being wiped out if this part of the catering industry is dismantled by the effects of this Bill.
Clause 23(2)(b) gives the Secretary of State the power to issue a discrimination code of practice to ensure that employers do not discriminate on racial grounds when they apply the new law on employment of immigrants. The clause also gives the Secretary of State the right to consult,
as he sees fit under this code of practice. In view of the large number of Chinese and other ethnic-minority-owned small businesses in this country, will the Secretary of State undertake to consult representatives of, for example, Chinese employers and Chinese workers in respect of the code of practice?
Many Chinese food outlets and restaurants now change hands because their owners, who arrived in the 1960s and 1970s, have reached retirement age and their
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children have no interest in food catering. Noble Lords may be familiar with Ofsted reports which state that more than 70 per cent of Chinese children have obtained five good GCSE grades for the past decade. Almost all Chinese children attend universities or higher education colleges. No more than five in 100 have chosen to work in restaurants or food catering for almost two decades.
In 1987, I conducted a survey of Chinese teenagers on Merseyside. Only five of the 110 children I interviewed wanted to work in food catering, although 98 of their parents were in Chinese food businesses. My report was given to the regeneration agencies that were involved in the renewal of Merseyside. The same findings have subsequently been reported in London, Manchester, Glasgow and Belfast. In 1997, the Fourth National Survey of Ethnic Minorities in Britain found that one in four Chinese men and women possess a university degree. That further reduces their interest in working in food catering.
Because no more than five in 100 Chinese food outlets are taken over by the children of the original proprietor, most of them are soldmainly to Chinese people from abroad. Usually, the person interested in buying the business comes from China, Hong Kong or south-east Asia and works in that outlet for a year before deciding whether to buy it. As the value of the small business is less than £200,000, these people need visas to work here.
The removal of settlement rights under the five-tier points system will also make the United Kingdom unattractive to workers and prospective proprietors. High-skilled workers currently have a maximum of five years to remain in the United Kingdom without a break. The new Bill will break up that leave to remain into two parts of two years and three years. Therefore, high-skilled workers take a high risk when they decide to work in the United Kingdom because they are very unlikely to be able to settle here. Low-skilled workers will have no settlement rights and their family cannot join them. It is likely that workers in the food catering industry will be classified as low-skilled workers.
If the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill is passed, it could herald the death of the Chinese catering industry in the United Kingdom. When it is fully implemented, the only outlets to remain open will be expensive establishments vying for Michelin star status in our major metropolitan cities, particularly in the West End of London.
I turn now to Chinese students from China, Hong Kong and south-east Asia. As other speakers have said, our universities consider them a significant group of international students that supply brains and finances to support our academic achievements. Ministers are aware that China currently provides between 70,000 and 90,000 students to the United Kingdom. But the increase made earlier this year to visa fees has deterred several thousands from coming, a point which has already been reported. A group of such students met me recently. They also complained that as legitimate visa holders, they seemed to be the
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only students on their campuses who, on arriving at their universities and checking into temporary summer accommodation, have to report to the nearest police station. They told me that no other groups of overseas students have to do this. That further sours their experience in the United Kingdom. Perhaps the Minister may wish to consider this practice.
The implementation of Clauses 1, 4 and 11 will further reduce the number of overseas students. This will happen at a time when we know from the Independent Monitor of UK visas that the average refusal rate for student visas is 32 per centdouble that for non-settlement applications in 2003. There are 16 posts around the world that have refusal rates for student applications of more than 50 per cent, with a total refusal rate of 73 per cent from Kathmandu. Some 89 per cent of UK refusals are made for the reason that students are not studying at degree level by the time they intend to leave at the end of their visit or they will have completed their studies. An average student visa interview lasts for 10 minutes and the overall success rate on appeals made by the Immigration Advisory Service on behalf of students was 38 per cent in 200203 and 49 per cent in 200304.
I look forward to hearing the Minister's response to the issues I have raised.
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