UK may change policy on foreign students

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 15, 2018


The Times reported that international students may be taken out of the net migration figures

The British government may bring in a significant change to its immigration policy by taking international students out of the net migration figures, according to a media report in the UK.

The Times reported that Prime Minister Theresa May — who has stuck to the policy despite pressure, including from within her own Cabinet, to change her stance on this — was ready to soften her opposition.

An amendment to a piece of legislation on higher education — introduced by members of the House of Lords and due to be considered by the House of Commons next week — proposes such a change.

The newspaper suggested May might be willing to accept changes to ensure the smooth passage of the Bill itself, which involves a major shake up of Britain’s higher education system.

The move will be strongly welcomed by India, which has raised concerns in the past about British policy towards international students. “We would welcome any move that helps mobility between the two countries,” Deputy High Commissioner Dinesh Patnaik told BusinessLine. “This has got to be done,” said cross-bench peer Lord Karan Bilimoria, who has been a vocal champion of the amendment in the Lords. “We won’t back down on this as this move is logical if we want to invest in our universities and our future. I think they will make this concession.”

Pressure has been building on May to change her policy on international students, as a number of senior members of her party, including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, have pressed for change.

Some campaigners for the change have argued that while Britain does not cap international student numbers, keeping them within net migration figures means students are included in the wider immigration debate, and add to the impression that Britain was not welcoming to foreign students.

“I hope it will turn the page on this very unhappy period in our history where people thought we were a very closed and unwelcoming nation,” Lord Hannay, one of the Lords behind the amendment to the legislation, told The Hindu in January, before the legislation went through the House.

The amendment says no student “shall be treated for public policy purposes as an economic migrant to the UK, for the duration of their education at such an establishment.”

A research published by Universities UK, the representative body for higher education institutions, last week found a widespread belief across the British public about the positive impact of international students, both on the economy and the local community they lived in. Just 26 per cent thought they should be counted as immigrants in government policies. “International students generate nearly £26 billion for the UK economy and support over 200,000 British jobs,” said Alistair Jarvis, Deputy Chief Executive, Universities UK. “We need a new immigration policy that encourages international students to choose to study in the UK, coupled with a more welcoming message from the government.”

A spokesperson for the UK Home Office said the government policy remained unchanged.

Published on April 20, 2017

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