Home Secretary Theresa May is understood to be considering sending overseas graduates back to their home countries to apply for UK visas, rather than allowing them to do so while they are in Britain.
It would mean that non-EU students would finish their courses and then have to apply for a UK work visa. Currently, they can apply for a UK visa while still in Britain under a student visa.
The Home Secretary is said to be looking at the issue as part of efforts to reduce net student migration to zero.
In addition, she reportedly wants powers to act against universities and colleges that fail to ensure their overseas graduates return home at the end of their courses. This could include removing the educational institutions’ rights to sponsor international students, a source told The Sunday Times.
However, her plans have not won support from other members of the Coalition Government.
Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable is concerned that introducing such rules would put off overseas students considering studying in the UK. His department is responsible for the UK’s universities. There are concerns that this could leave the UK short of skilled graduates who are needed by business and industry.
The source was quoted as saying: “The idea that you have people from abroad studying in this country and they become engineers or scientists of huge practical value to the economy and rather than have them stay here you immediately turf them out makes zero economic sense.”
However, a different source close to Mrs May said that ensuring people left the UK at the end of their visa was as important as controlling who was allowed to come into the UK in the first place.