Speaking in response to the Queen’s Speech, Lord Bilimoria strongly criticised the government’s continued failure to reform the immigration system and to support international students and higher education failure to understand the tremendous economic and social values that international students bring to the United Kingdom, citing research by the National Union of Students, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, and the Judge Business School.
Lord Bilimoria also criticised the failure of the government to introduce exit-checks as British ports of entry, as well as the negative response to the mooted “Visitor Bond” system, which was scrapped last year after public outcry.
My Lords, arriving at his Cardiff primary school at the age of five, the future vice-chancellor of Cambridge University could use just one English phrase. Today, at the age of 63, he still remembers the kindness that people showed him as he learnt to speak English, and of course he now holds one of the world’s most influential academic positions. The gracious Speech talked about the packed programme of a busy and radical Government, but despite that there is no mention of immigration or of higher education. I want to talk about those two topics and I declare my various interests in the higher education field, as well as being an immigrant. Professor Leszek Borysiewicz has made a defence of the value of immigration. He opposes crude numerical limits and praises Britain’s plural society as one of its greatest strengths.
We all know that the target of tens of thousands has become a real issue. The number of students coming here from India fell by 39% between 2011 and 2012. The vice-chancellor has said that a university such as Cambridge is in the global race, a point also made by the Prime Minister. It is competing not just with other British universities, but with Princeton, Harvard and Stanford. Setting an immigration target of this kind is harming Britain, because for the first time in many years the number of international students coming to Britain has fallen overall. What is even more scary is that the numbers have fallen in the STEM subjects, which we so desperately need students to study.
Michael Kitson, a university lecturer in global macroeconomics at the University of Cambridge, has come up with some great insights. He feels that the popular press has been propelling the bandwagon in immigration. He has said that non-EU students contribute over £7 billion to our economy—our GDP and balance of trade—and, while some students may remain after they have finished their studies, the vast majority leave. When we look behind the figures for net immigration, if students are excluded, the net figure in 2013 was 58,000, averaging 49,000 between 2004 and 2013. Voilà, the Government’s target of net immigration to be measured in the tens of thousands has already been met if students are excluded. When we look at people who come here to work we see that, while 214,000 came to work here in the UK, some 186,000 left the country to work overseas.
The main driver of future prosperity in this country can be summed up in one word: innovation. Innovation is driven by diversity. Just look at Silicon Valley, one of the most diverse communities in the world, and what it has achieved in changing our lives. What has happened over here is that the popular press has been stirring up a hatred of immigration based on anecdotes, rumours and slurs, not on figures. I think we need to come to terms with that. The National Union of Students has conducted surveys which show that 51% of non-EU students think that the UK Government are either not welcoming or not at all welcoming towards international students. We had the Government’s £3,000 visa bond, which set off the alarm bells. In a U-turn, the Government withdrew it. They then had the idea of hoardings saying “Illegal immigrants go home” being driven around. Even Nigel Farage of UKIP objected to them, and they were the subject of another government U-turn. Yet here in this House we have the noble Lord, Lord Glendonbrook, who made an excellent maiden speech.
He is an immigrant who has made a brilliant contribution to this country. The Government’s attitude to immigration can be summed up in one word: hypocrisy. On the one hand, we have the immigration cap, while on the other hand, for years I have been saying that we should bring in exit controls at our borders: scan every passport that comes in and scan every passport that goes out. You will then know who is in the country and thus who should or should not be here. The Government must do this. The e-border scheme has been a miserable failure and over £500 million has been wasted on it.
The National Union of Students, which supports the aim of removing international students from the immigration figures, says clearly that such students contribute a great deal to the social and economic fabric of the UK, contributing more than £12.5 billion to the UK economy. Its surveys show that only 1% of all immigrants granted settlement in 2009 progressed directly from a study route to remain in this country. That is because the vast majority of students leave the UK within five years. The excellent post-graduation work visas need to be brought back in by the Government. In any case, we have one of the most expensive visa systems in the world.
I conclude by going back to the vice-chancellor of Cambridge, who has said:
When I think of how my parents were welcomed to this country, I find that actually quite saddening. I do feel we are an open, democratic country and we should be setting the standards for the rest of the world, not hindering them … One of Britain’s greatest strengths has been in the way it has assimilated so many different communities, and we are a very plural and open society … At a personal level I abhor the idea that we actually have a very strict migration target. There are so many nuances to numbers in this regard that it actually hides the true potential benefit that people coming into Britain can have. We should be looking at the capacity of individuals to contribute to our society here rather than have a political ding-dong over ‘we brought in 10,000 fewer than you did’”.