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Call to halve student visa numbers

The number of students coming to Britain from outside the EU will need to be more than halved if the Government is to meet its immigration target, officials have said.

More than 87,000 student visas must go if those coming to study are to take their share of the cut needed to bring net migration down from 196,000 to the tens of thousands by 2015, said the independent body asked to recommend a level for the Government's proposed immigration cap.

The Migration Advisory Committee (Mac) said the number of people travelling to the UK for working holidays and those who come to work as domestic servants or on creative and media visas will also need to be slashed.

Professor David Metcalf, the Mac chairman, said the number of migrant workers from outside the EU should be cut by between 13% and 25% next year. The level of the proposed cap was "more severe, more stringent" than the temporary cap imposed this year, he said.

But it will still not be enough to cut migration by 146,000 - the figure the Mac decided was needed to give the Government the best chance of reaching their "tens of thousands" target by the end of the Parliament.

Work-related migration accounts for just 20% of the overall reduction needed, he said, meaning non-EU students must make up 60% of the cut with the final 20% coming from family visas and their dependants.

Two-thirds of the non-EU migrants who enter the UK come on student visas, with more than half of these studying courses below degree level.

Home Secretary Theresa May said she would crack down on non-EU students coming to privately-funded colleges and to study courses that were below degree-level. But in a key speech on immigration last week she added that she will do nothing to prevent those coming to study degree-level courses.

Prof Metcalf added that a new provision could be made for non-EU scientists under tier one of the visa system to address the concerns of universities who fear that the cap could make it harder for the UK to attract the world's best researchers.

He said the number of visas issued to non-EU migrant workers needs to be between 37,400 and 43,700 for 2011/12, a cut of between 6,300 and 12,600 visas compared with 2009. And tier two visas, for skilled workers with job offers, should be prioritised over tier one visas for highly skilled workers without a job offer, he said.

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