The Government has been urged to remove international students from its “flawed” immigration target as the Home Office commissions an independent report to detail the impact on the UK of overseas graduates.
Theresa May has stuck to the Government’s controversial target to reduce net migration to under 100,000 a year, despite failing to meet the pledge in the past.
But critics have warned continuing to include foreign students in the statistics will damage the UK economy and the country’s global reputation.
Now Home Secretary Amber Rudd has said ministers want “robust” evidence of the value of international students, which one pro-EU group welcomed as “encouraging”.
The cross-party Education Select Committee has perviously called for overseas students to be recorded under a separate classification, and said EU students generated an estimated £3.7bn for the UK economy and 34,000 jobs in 2011-12.
The Government signalled the report would be underpinned by fears over bogus and second-rate students coming to the UK, pointing to cracking down on the ability of 900 colleges to bring in international students.
The Migration Advisory Committee will look at the impact of both EU and non-EU students on local economies and their impact on places for domestic students. Rudd said:
“There is no limit to the number of genuine international students who can come to the UK to study and the fact that we remain the second most popular global destination for those seeking higher education is something to be proud of.
“We understand how important students from around the world are to our higher education sector, which is a key export for our country, and that’s why we want to have a robust and independent evidence base of their value and the impact they have.”
Ben Bradshaw MP, leading supporter of the Open Britain campaign group, said:
“It’s encouraging that the Government seem to be seeking out evidence on their immigration policy, rather than basing it purely on knee-jerk sentiment and anecdote.
“But there is already a mountain of evidence of the importance of international students to our universities and research suggests they support over 200,000 jobs and add £25bn a year to our economy.
“To protect our economy and keep Britain an open and tolerant society, the Government should remove international students from their flawed immigration target altogether.”
Former Chancellor George Osborne has previously slammed May’s plan to count foreign students in the UK’s net migration figures, arguing it was “not sensible”.
“Students who turn up, they’re only here for two or three years, and education is one of Britain’s biggest exports,” he said.
“I think it’s one of Britain’s biggest successes in the world, and creates links of affection for Britain.
“When I was the chancellor I thought it was not sensible to include them in the figures.”
The report comes as the Home Office admitted it sent letters incorrectly to EU nationals threatening them with deportation.
The error came to light after a Finnish academic who has lived in the UK with her British husband for most of the last ten years posted on Facebook that she was told she had a month to leave the country or face being booted out.
Eva Johanna Holmberg said whole episode had aged her “at least 5 years” in less than a week, and she is now “even less likely to trust” the Government over its claims to protect the rights of EU nationals.
The Home Office apologised, but admitted to the Guardian around 100 or so letters had been sent out.