Business Needs To Stand Up Against The Scaremongering On Immigration

27/09/2017 17:00 BST | Updated 27/09/2017 17:00 BST

It is high time we stood up against the scaremongering on immigration by our current Government.

The latest revelations about the inaccuracies surrounding the statistics on international students staying in the UK reveal just how far the public have been misled about the highly-charged issue of migration, a driving factor behind the Brexit vote.

When Theresa May became Prime Minister after the EU referendum, she traded on her tough talk, steely persona and record as the longest-serving Home Secretary in almost seven decades, but little mention of the economic illiteracy behind her stance on immigration.

One of the greatest qualities of a leader is to be able to listen, to adapt, and to take guidance from other experts around you. On other matters, the Prime Minister has backed down on recommendations from advisors; why, on this one issue, does she continue to stand her ground?

The Government has been wrong to never use the EU Directive 2004/38/EC, allowing us to deport EU nationals after 3 months if they are unable to support themselves or find employment. Belgium, for example, uses this directive to repatriate thousands each year.

Why does the UK not use this and why have we allowed the Brexiteers to give the false impression that there is unfettered free movement from the EU to the UK, when that is not the case?

It now emerges just how wrong the Prime Minister has been to warn that up to 100,000 international students of remaining in the UK illegitimately after their studies have ended each year.

The figure was a gross overstatement. It was based on data from the International Passenger Survey - data that can at best be called conjecture and, at worst, sheer nonsense. But the IPS has long been the basis of scaremongering about immigration - including by the Prime Minister herself.

On 27 July, the Office for Statistics Regulation released a report undermining the Government's use of the International Passenger Survey (IPS) to determine how many international students are leaving the country. The figures should be treated as 'experimental', to use the report's own word. They are unfit to be used as official figures.

Furthermore, last month, a study was finally released by the Government which further confirmed that barely 4,600 international students stayed on in the UK illegitimately, according to e-exit check data compiled at Britain's borders.

When challenged in the past, Theresa May claimed that she would never listen to advice from 'university lobbyists', and to this day she maintains she was right to use these figures. Yet it is absurd that these 'experimental' figures, now proven to be false, have been for so many years the basis for Government policy.

In October last year, The Times reported on exit check data compiled in the year to April 2016 revealing that barely one per cent of international students, or 1,500 in total, had stayed in the country illegitimately after graduating. I asked the Government time and again why it had not made this report public, yet they gave me no answer.

The little evidence for the Prime Minister's position on immigration and international students has evaporated, yet Theresa May still refuses to do the right thing and change her policy.

This sort of misrepresentation has led to the public's loss of faith in the Government's controls on immigration, arguably one of the biggest issues in the campaign leading to Brexit.

And it is not just universities who support the removal of international students from net migration figures; the public and members of the Prime Ministers own Cabinet do as well. Just this one move would show the world that we are open to university students from around the world.

Otherwise, the UK and its universities will continue to lose out to competitors overseas, including the USA, Australia and Canada, where international students are classified as temporary migrants, not as migrants.

Furthermore, as Home Secretary, the Prime Minister removed the two-year post-graduation work visa, whilst our competitor countries make it much easier for international students to stay on and work for a while after they graduate; as a result, Britain is losing out.

International students bring in £25billion to our economy, as well as enriching the experience of our domestic students and they are one of our strongest forms of soft power, with more world leaders from British Universities than from any other country in the world.

Yet we send an unwelcoming message to prospective foreign students throughout the world. It is largely this rhetoric that has prompted a drop of over half in the number of Indian students studying in the UK since 2010.

The Prime Minister is right that we do need to tackle immigration, but focusing on EU citizens and international students is an error.

Physical, visible exit checks, which were removed by Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1998, should be reintroduced at our borders to ensure all passports are scanned when visitors, EU and non-EU, enter the country, and when they leave. This would give us the accurate immigration data that we desperately need to take control of immigration.

This is surely a necessity for security purposes, given the dangerous world in which we live; the Government's first and greatest responsibility is the protection of its citizens.

But it would also end the unjustified suspicion of immigrants, who have contributed so much to our economy and our businesses. We cannot let the deception continue.