The UK government has proposed changes to its law that could make it difficult for foreign students to access British universities, but cannot legislate to stop them from coming here.
In a draft law, the government says it will take “appropriate action” if foreign students fail to get into the country by 2020.
But it is unclear how this would work in practice.
It is a change from the current rules, which state that only British students can be admitted to universities in other European countries.
Foreign students have been allowed to come to Britain for four years since the law was passed in 2011.
But they have to obtain permission from the Home Office and the British embassy in their home country to apply for admission.
The proposed change would make it more difficult for UK-based foreign students who want to come here to come through the same process.
Currently, they must apply for an EU visa and wait two years before they can be allowed to enter the country.
Under the proposed changes, the two-year wait would be extended to three years.
Under that scenario, the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, said the government would consider making the two year waiting period shorter.
“The Government will take the necessary steps to make it easier for foreign nationals to enter this country.
We will look at all the evidence to find the most effective way to do this,” she said.
A spokesman for the Home Affairs Select Committee said the committee had not been consulted about the draft legislation.
But it is understood that the Home Department is also considering a “more lenient” measure, which would make the two years waiting period longer.
Under the proposed legislation, it would be a UK offence to “neglect” a foreign student or offer them a visa without first having a “reason to believe” they are eligible.
If they are found to be ineligible, the student could face deportation.