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Tory leadership blocks plans to send overseas students home

The home secretary's proposals to force overseas students to reapply for UK visas is rejected in move reportedly led by George Osborne. The Tory leadership has blocked a plan put forward by Theresa May to force overseas students to return home after they have graduated. The home secretary, Theresa May, lost a battle to revive a proposal from the Tories’ 2010 general election party manifesto.

Theresa May and George Osborne sitting side by side at the first cabinet meeting of 2015. But, it is reported that he led the opposition to her plans for students. Photograph: Pool/REUTERS/The Guardian Theresa May and George Osborne sitting side by side at the first cabinet meeting of 2015. But, it is reported that he led the opposition to her plans for students. Photograph: Pool/REUTERS/The Guardian
07-01-2015 by The Guardian

Theresa May's plan to force overseas students to return home after they have graduated has been blocked by the Tory leadership. This move, it has been reported, was led by George Osborne.

The home secretary lost a battle to revive a proposal from the Tories’ 2010 general election manifesto to require overseas students to apply for a new UK visa from their home country after graduating. This came a day after she shared a pre-election platform with the chancellor.

The Financial Times reported that the setback for May followed a campaign led by the former universities minister David Willetts and the inventor Sir James Dyson to reject the plan to force overseas students to leave the EU after graduating.

Senior officials of the Tory party said that the party would not repeat its pledge from its 2010 general election manifesto, as May had demanded, to “require that students must usually leave the country and reapply if they want to switch to another course or apply for a work permit”.

One senior Tory official, according to the FT, said: “We have a policy that international students can stay when they graduate if they find a graduate-level job paying £24,000 a year. That remains the policy.” 

The intervention by Osborne will be seen as a setback for May.  May is seen as the frontrunner to succeed David Cameron as Tory leader. It is said that Osborne is highly wary of the home secretary.  According to sources of the Financial Times, she was the only potential leadership candidate not invited by the chancellor’s close ally Michael Gove to meet Jeb Bush during his recent visit to London.

"Downing Street suspected last month that May was moving to shore up her position with the Tory right ahead of the formal failure to meet the prime minister’s target of cutting net migration to the tens of thousands by outlining plans for a drastic cut in the number of overseas graduates."

The Sunday Times was briefed by the home secretary's team shortly before Christmas.  According to the home secretary's team, the projected increase in student numbers will be unsustainable unless most leave when their student visa expires.

Theresa May said that the proposal would build compliance into the system by requiring new graduates to return home to apply for a new student visa or a work permit.

But May’s plan has been described by Willetts as “mean-spirited”. In a Times article last month, Willetts wrote: “There is a global trend for more students to study abroad. We should aim to increase our share of this growing market.

“But if we implement the latest idea from the Home Office for new restrictions on overseas students, we would not only miss this golden opportunity – we would be acting in a mean-spirited and inward-looking way.”

Another opponent to May's plan, Lord Dyson wrote of May’s plan in a Guardian article: “May’s immigration plans simply force the nimble minds we nurture to return home and fuel competition from overseas. Why would they return? Often they hail from emerging economies and nations that respect science and engineering.”