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Ministers 'playing immigration numbers game' by including students

Thinktank says government is refusing to exclude overseas students from figures so it can appear to show fall in immigration

Ministers have included overseas students in the government's net migration count because they are more interested in playing the numbers game than with long-term migration, a leading thinktank has claimed.

The Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) report says the refusal to exclude international students from the government's drive to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands is damaging British education and putting at risk £4bn to £6bn a year in benefits to the UK economy.

The IPPR researchers Matt Cavanagh and Alex Glennie say only the 15% of overseas students who stay on to work permanently in Britain should be counted within the net migration figures, which measure the long-term flow of migrants in and out of Britain.

Home Office ministers have introduced a wide range of curbs on the 400,000 overseas students who come to Britain each year to study as part of their drive to reduce annual net migration from its current level of 240,000 a year to below 100,000 by the time of the 2015 general election.

Ministers have turned down demands from Universities UK and the National Union of Students to exclude overseas students from the long-term net migration figures, arguing they are simply complying with international standards laid down by the International Labour Organisation.

But the IPPR reports that the UK's main competitors in the overseas student market – the US, Canada and Australia – make clear they are only included in the immigration figures as temporary or "non-immigrant" admissions.

"The decisive reason why the UK government is sticking with the current method of measuring student migration flows is not a genuine concern with long-term net migration but a desire to 'game' its own net migration target by banking large apparent reductions in 2013 and 2014 which reflect the limitations of the current method of measurement rather than real changes in long-term net migration trends," concludes the report.

It says that while it is true there has been abuse of student visas, cutting down on abuse and cutting down on numbers are fundamentally different objectives.

"The government needs to take international students out of the 'immigration' numbers game, which is damaging our universities and colleges, our economy and our international standing," it concludes.

Sarah Mulley, the IPPR's associate director, said: "If the government ignores these arguments and persists with the current method of measuring students for the purposes of meeting its net migration target in 2015, and therefore continues to regard a dramatic reduction in international students as an objective in its own right, it must admit that it is placing short-term political considerations above a genuine concern with long-term net migration."

The immigration minister, Damian Green, has told MPs that he disagrees with the argument that students are not migrants. "Under longstanding international measures, students and others who come to the UK for more than a year are counted as migrants. I agree that not all students remain permanently but significant numbers do." He said that of those migrants granted the right to settle in 2009, 13% – more than 23,000 – had come to the UK as a student.

Source: - Guardian UK