|Students should not be migrants says UK think-tank
International students in the UK should not be considered as migrants and the government risks causing billions of pounds of unnecessary damage to the economy with its student visa policy, according to a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).
Written by the IPPR’s Matt Cavanagh and Alex Glennie, International Students and Net Migration in the UK compares methods of categorising international students across the top ten destinations, typical staying rates beyond study, and projects the anticipated effects of the tightening of visa policy.
The UK coalition government has a stated policy of reducing net migration to tens of thousands. The most recent calculation of net migration (inbound minus outbound) in 2011 was 252,000, according to the Office of National Students. Of 593,000 inbound immigrants, around 40 per cent were international students. The UK Borders Agency predicts that student visa regulations introduced, including restricting the post-study work route, will reduce net migration by 56,000 by 2015.
However, the report uses the Home Office’s own data to reveal that only around 15 per cent of students stay permanently and argues that only these should be counted in immigration figures. “The rational approach, advocated in this report, is for only those students who stay on to work (or marry or form partnerships with residents) to be included in the net migration figures, and only at the point they make the switch,” stated the report.
One of the main arguments in the report is that the current policy and method of counting migration will lead to a short-term negative effect on migration figures in 2013/14 prior to the next scheduled election before rising again. The authors calculate that there would only be an actual difference of around 7,500 per year in long-term migration between maintaining the current level of international student numbers and the government’s current policy of reducing levels.
“The current method of measuring migration flows gives the government a perverse incentive to cut international student numbers in the short-term, rather than focusing on what it states is its real aim: controlling long-term net migration.”
The authors argue that maintaining current levels “would save the UK from losing around UK£2-3 billion [US$3.24.8bn] per year in economic contribution” from the reduction in students.
The government has defended its migration calculation methods as international standard. Immigration Minister, Damian Green, said in The Guardian, “Under longstanding international measures, students and others 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.”
However, the authors of the report note that the USA, Australia and Canada three of the UK’s largest competitors all make clear in their migration data that students are temporary “non-immigrant” admissions.
The report was welcomed by ELT association English UK. Tony Millns, Chief Executive, said, “People in the UK are intelligent enough to see international students as quite different from true migrants who come here for work and family reasons, aiming to settle permanently and adding to the UK’s population. It is this long-term migration that people are concerned about, and rightly want the government to do something to control and reduce.” As previously reported in Your World, Universities UK has also been critical of migration data.
The full IPPR report can be accessed here