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UK appoints new immigration minister

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Damian Green MP, until 5th September the UK's Immigration Minister, has been removed from his post in a cabinet reshuffle. He has been replaced by Mark Harper, the Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean. Mr Green is now the Minister of state for Police and Criminal Justice.

Mr Green became Immigration Minister when the Coalition government came to power in 2010. He had responsibility for reducing levels of immigration into the UK from about 260,000 a year, as it was under the previous Labour government, to below 100,000 a year by 2015. Working with the Home Secretary, Theresa May, he introduced a cap on Tier 2 skilled worker visas, limiting the number of skilled workers who were able to enter the country every year.

He also introduced checks on English language schools in the UK in an effort to prevent bogus colleges from sponsoring people from outside the European Union for a tier 4 student visa thus allowing them to work in the UK illegally. 500 language schools have had their licences to sponsor overseas students removed since 2010. Mr Green also worked on proposals to legislate on sham marriage.

Mr Green had recently been embroiled in the London Metropolitan University dispute with the United Kingdom Border Agency, (UKBA). The UKBA removed LMU's Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) status which had the effect of preventing it from teaching students from outside the European Economic Area. This decision will mean that 2,600 students already studying at LMU will have to leave the country without finishing their degrees unless they can find another course by December 2012.

The decision drew criticism from many quarters. Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students said . 'Politicians need to realise that a continued attitude of suspicion towards international students could endanger the continuation of higher education as a successful export industry'. Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, whose North Islington constituency contains much of LMU, in a parliamentary debate on 3rd September 2012, asked Mr Green to reinstate the 2,600 students who were currently LMU students; 'what impression will their home country have of Britain…when, through no fault of their own, students have been denied the right to complete a course for which they paid a great deal of money?', he said.

On Tuesday, 3rd September, LMU announced that it would be launching legal action to make UKBA change its decision. But Mr Green defended the UKBA, saying that there had been 'systemic failures' at LMU which made it impossible to know whether students on the university's books were genuine students or if they were working illegally in the United Kingdom.

It is not thought that the change of minister will result in any change of policy. At a House of Commons debate this afternoon, several MPs, including Frank Field, asked the new minister, Mr Harper, to overturn UKBA's decision and to allow the 2,600 LMU students to continue their courses at LMU. Mr Field said that not to do so was 'punishing the innocent'.

Mr Harper refused. He said, as Mr Green had said earlier in the week, that the government had created a taskforce to help the students find places at other universities.

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