Why UK needs new immigration policy for international students

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 15, 2018

Foreign students contribute £26 billion to the UK economy

Survey finds most see them as valuable temporary visitors, not long-term migrants

The body representing universities in the UK is calling for a “new immigration” policy on international students, after new research found that nearly two-thirds of people think that international students had a positive impact on local economies, and that just 26 per cent believed that they should count as immigrants in government policy.

The research comes amid growing pressure on the government to remove international students from net migration figures — something the government has resisted so far despite efforts, including by senior members of the Conservative Party to persuade it to do so.

The poll conducted for Universities UK by ComRes indicated a consistency of views across the country, beyond London and including northern regions, and found that when details of the economic impact of international students were presented to people, 73 per cent said they would like to see the numbers of international students coming to the UK increase or remain the same.

“It is clear that the British public does not see international students as long-term migrants, but as valuable, temporary visitors,” said Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK. “But while the UK government continues to count international students as long-term migrants in its target to reduce migration, there is a continued pressure to reduce their numbers, adding to the perception that they are not welcome here.”

Key factors

While Britain does not have a cap on the number of international students, a number of factors are thought to put students off, including their limited ability to stay and work after completing their degree, and perceptions that Britain is an unwelcoming place (fuelled by political rhetoric stressing the government’s eagerness to clampdown on immigration).

Recent figures have shown international student enrolments falling over the years, with Indian students amongst the most impacted.

Figures published by Higher Education Statistics Agency in January showed, the number of Indian students fell to 16,745 in 2015-16 from 29,900 in 2011-12.

Senior officials and politicians in India have in the past indicated that the policy towards international students is one of the issues of concern in the bilateral relationship.

“If the UK wants to remain a top destination for international students, we need a new immigration policy that encourages them to choose the UK.

“As the UK prepares to exit the EU, it is more important than ever that we project a welcoming message to talented people from across the world,” added Goodfellow.

“Foreign students contribute an eye-watering £26 billion to the UK economy, yet the Conservatives, who once delighted in the title of ‘the party of business’, are prepared to lose all that money,” said John Pugh, spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats on education.

“This is hindering their post-Brexit plans as India has made clear it will not do a trade deal with Britain unless we adopt a sensible policy on students.”

Published on April 13, 2017

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