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Eastbourne & Willingdon Lib Dems


December 29, 2010 12:00 AM

Stephen Lloyd this week led a delegation of Eastbourne Language School Principals and several MPs, including Brighton MPs, Simon Kirby and Caroline Lucas along with a number of leading figures in the English Language School sector to the Home Office for a meeting with the Immigration Minister, Damian Green MP and the Chief Executive of the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA), Lin Homer.

Stephen was promised the meeting by the Prime Minister last month after he brought it to David Cameron's attention that over-strict student visa regulations were having a devastating effect on the Language School sector in Eastbourne and across the UK. In order for a student to obtain a visa to come and study English for a period greater than six months, they must already have an English language qualification which is equivalent to A-level. This illogical situation where people need to be able to already speak English before coming to the UK to learn the language has led to a severe downturn in the number of students coming to Eastbourne and other towns along the South Coast.

After tourism, English Language schools are the biggest contributor to the economy in Eastbourne with thousands of students visiting every year, living with host families and providing them and local businesses with vital income.

Paul Clark, Principal of LTC in Eastbourne, set the scene by telling the Immigration Minister "The impact has been catastrophic, long-term bookings are down in Eastbourne by 50%, and it isn't just the schools that are suffering, but the economy of our town as a whole". He went on to tell Damian Green "it's hurting us, really hurting us" and that if a solution was not found quickly he fears for the future of English Language schools in Eastbourne and throughout the UK.

John Sutherland, Principal of St. Giles International, Eastbourne, also told the Minister "The UK is losing out to the US as year round students are flocking to America and other English speaking countries." Mr Sutherland added that "The bedrock of our business are the long-stay students and were these unreasonable visa regulations to stay in place, I too fear for the future of English Language schools."

Damian Green informed the delegation that there was currently a review into the effects of the new visa regulations, which he hoped to have completed by the autumn. The delegation suggested a number of alternative measures the Home Office and UKBA could implement in order to reduce the threat of bogus students coming here to work illegally, without harming the legitimate schools like those in Eastbourne. Lin Homer, Chief Executive of the UKBA suggested that part of the review into English Language Schools could be concentrated in Eastbourne, which Stephen Lloyd and the Eastbourne Principals duly welcomed.

After the meeting Stephen Lloyd said "Our English language schools in Eastbourne play a vital role in the whole town's economy. I made it clear to the minister that we need to get the review completed as soon as possible. Damian Green assured the delegation that he wants to find a solution to the problem. I'm glad that the Eastbourne Principals were able to make their case directly to the Immigration Minister, and that part of the Home Office's review will concentrate on Eastbourne. We all look forward to working closely with the Home Office and the UKBA on the review, while pressing for it to be completed as quickly as possible and to come up with a sensible outcome for the industry."