Immigration by Students - Main Points

The below summary was last updated June 2022

  • In March 2019, the government set a target to have 600,000 students enrolled in UK higher education (HE) by 2030 - a 30% increase on 2017/18. This target had already been reached by 2020/21 (Higher Education Statistics Agency, or HESA).
  • A record 440,000 study visa were granted in year to March 2022 (Home Office).
  • The University Admissions Service (UCAS) predict further increase of 50% in international undergraduate applicants by 2026 (see media report).
  • The top 20 HE providers at which non-UK students were enrolled made up 7% of 282 organisations, yet accounted for 38% of the total number of students enrolled (or 230,000 out of just over 600,000) – HESA data for 2020/21.
  • In four institutions (all in London), the majority of students were from overseas.
  • Areas with high numbers of non-UK students are London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Coventry, Glasgow, Sheffield, Leeds, Warwick and Hertfordshire (Hatfield).
  • Study visas are a major long-term immigration route: 120,000 people stayed on after expiry of their initial study visa (in 2018/19), with most granted further visas enabling them to remain for more study, work or family reasons (ONS). It is not true that 97% of students leave after initial visa expiry; 40% stay on (summary).
  • Around 20,000 people per year have been granted a permanent stay in the UK after having originally arrived on a study visa. This route is not meant to be a direct route to settling in the UK (Home Office migrant journey report).
  • There are between 10,000 and 20,000 per year for whom there is no clear record of departure (according the ONS) – indicating potential overstaying.
  • Driving up study visas higher than the current record would not be wise, especially during the present housing, economic and health crises.
  • A weakening of study visa requirements means more potential for the return of abuse and fraud which reached a peak during from 2009-11.
  • 61% of the public say overseas students should not receive priority in our new immigration system (Deltapoll, 2020).

Immigration by Students Research


Over the 23 years that Migration Watch UK has been working in this field we have produced many papers.

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