Thursday, December 13, 2012

British government to relax rules on foreign students

Foreign PhD will be allowed to stay in Britain after completing their degrees but Britain will take further steps to "root out abuses" by fake ones trying to get visas, Theresa May said today.

In a key speech, the Home Secretary said foreign PhD students will be allowed to stay in the UK for a year after their studies to encourage more talented immigrants to remain in Britain.

But she will also roll out more face-to-face interviews for overseas applicants, which could make it more difficult for them to get permission to study in the UK in the first place.

Mrs May is trying to bring down immigration to tens of thousands, rather than hundreds of thousands. She said today immigration can increase pressure on property prices and reduce wages for low earners. High immigration can make it difficult to have an integrated society, she added.

In an interview with the Financial Times last night, she also hit out at universities, saying they have a responsibility to make Britain more attractive to foreign students.

"The universities have got a job here as well in making sure that people actually understand that we're open for university students coming into the UK," she told the newspaper. "There's a job here not just for the government, I think there's a job for the universities as well to make sure that people know that we are open."

The Home Secretary is also expected to address concerns about tough visa restrictions on Chinese tourists, with plans to roll out more online applications and offer forms in Mandarin.

There have been a number of rows within the Coalition about immigration policy, with accusations that the Home Office's tough restrictions are holding back growth.

Sources said Mrs May, the Prime Minister, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, and George Osborne, the Chancellor, have now reached an agreement on sounding more welcoming to students at the same time as remaining tough over security concerns.

Some cabinet ministers have backed university chancellors who argue that including legitimate students in net migration figures is driving them to other countries and deterring billions of pounds in investment.

Boris Johnson, the London mayor, has also attacked the Government's "crazy" policies on immigration for throttling tourism and discouraging students.

There has been mounting concern about the shifting attitude towards foreign students since London Met University was stripped of its right to teach foreign students.

The Home Office has cracked down on bogus colleges letting in immigrants pretending to be students as part of a drive to being down immigration to the tens rather than hundreds of thousands.


Singapore turns away rescued boat people

Singapore has denied entry to a Vietnamese-registered cargo ship carrying 40 Burmese asylum seekers who were plucked from the sea after their boat sank in the Bay of Bengal.

In an incident similar to the 2001 Tampa affair, where Australia refused entry to Afghan asylum seekers, Singapore said it had blocked the ship because "those aboard do not appear to be persons eligible to enter Singapore".

The asylum seekers are believed to have been in the water for 30 hours before the ship Nosco Victory rescued them on December 5, meaning they would have been in a distressed state.

They are believed to be still aboard the ship anchored off Singapore. Their condition is unknown.

Singapore authorities said the Nosco Victory's captain ignored advice by Indian rescue authorities to take the asylum seekers to the "nearest port of safety", which probably would have been a Bangladeshi port.

The ship was due to dock in Singapore on Sunday.

"As information provided by the vessel's master concerning the rescued persons is sketchy and there is no other official documentation to assist at this point, they do not appear to be persons eligible to enter Singapore," the spokesperson said.

"Under these circumstances, MV Nosco Victory was denied entry to the Port of Singapore."

The ship's agent could not be reached for comment.

The asylum seekers are believed to Rohingyas, a Muslim minority who were fleeing western Burma, where ethnic violence erupted in June.

They were plucked from the sea after the overcrowded Bangladesh-flagged ship Nayou sank at about midday on December 4. Up to 160 other Rohingya aboard the ship are believed to have drowned. The Nayou was en route to Muslim-majority Malaysia, where there is a large Rohingya population.

The sinking is one of at least four in the area since October that has resulted in drowning of several hundred Rohingya - stateless people described by the United Nations as among the world's most persecuted groups.

More than 4000 Rohingya have attempted the perilous journey to Malaysia in the past eight weeks as the UN describes the situation in Rohingya camps in Burma's western Rahkine state as "dire", with widespread starvation.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees last month called on regional countries to keep their borders open to people seeking asylum and international protection from Burma.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore spokesperson said the advice given to the captain of the Nosco Victory by Indian rescue authorities was made in consultation with the authority "taking into consideration the safety and security of the ship".


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