Overseas student route a back door to Britain

June 13, 2012

Migration Watch UK has challenged the call by 70 University Chancellors, in a recent letter to the Prime Minister, for overseas students to be taken out of the migration statistics. This would achieve nothing except to destroy public confidence in the government’s immigration policy while any significant expansion of foreign students could blow the government’s immigration policy seriously off course. Those are the conclusions of a study published by Migration Watch UK today.

The study points out that:

  • Our main competitors – the US, Australia and Canada all include students in their net migration figures (while distinguishing them for internal administrative purposes).
  • Unlike Britain, the same countries interview students before a visa is granted to test whether they are genuine and whether they really intend to return home after their course. A major Australian report found recently that these interviews did not deter genuine students. The UK should re-introduce them.
  • The US and Australia both have checks on the departure of individual students which are still not possible in the UK. Over the past ten years around 2.5 million student visas have been issued for study but the government has not the slightest idea how many have actually left.
  • Universities UK accept that about 20% of students stay on legally – that amounts to net migration of 50,000 a year.
  • Some of those from poorer countries are likely to stay on illegally. Migration Watch estimate that they could add a further 25,000 per year bringing the total to 75,000.
  • If the number of foreign students was allowed to increase still further as the universities wish to see, students could eventually add 90 - 100,000 a year to net migration.
  • A 10% change in the number of foreign students would change the UK’s annual foreign exchange earnings by only about 0.2%.

Commenting, Sir Andrew Green, Chairman Migration Watch UK said “Foreign students are valuable but the present system is far too easily abused. Sadly, the student route has become the back door to Britain and it is wide open. Unlike our main competitors, we do not interview students before they come to confirm that they are genuine and there are no checks on their departure. We cannot have a massive inflow of a quarter of a million students a year without their contributing heavily to immigration. Taking them out of the statistics would achieve nothing. The government must thoroughly tighten up the student system or any attempt to reduce the current mass immigration will be blown seriously off course.

Note to Editors:

1.The Chancellors’ letter to the Prime Minister can be found at: http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/.../PMletterChancellors.aspx

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