Vidya Ram

British peers push to remove foreign students from migration figures

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 12, 2018 Published on January 15, 2017

Theresa May

Move could arrest fall in Indian students studying in the UK

Members of the House of Lords are pushing for the government to remove international students from migration figures, in a bid to prevent students from remaining a political football, used by the government to help meet net migration targets.

The move — if successful — could help halt the decline in Indian students, whose numbers have declined dramatically as a result of tightening government policy both on visas and educational institutions, and negative perceptions about Britain’s openness to foreign students.

The move comes in the form of an amendment to the controversial Higher Education and Research Bill — currently going through the House of Lords.

According to an amendment proposed by crossbencher and former diplomat Lord Hannay of Chiswick, and due to be discussed — and potentially included in the legislation — in the next couple of weeks at the “committee” stage of the Bill, the government has a “duty to encourage international students to attend higher education establishments covered by this Act.” The amendment has received cross party support: with Conservative Lord Chris Patten, Liberal Demcorat Baroness Susan Garden and Labour Baroness Janet Royall also putting their name to it.

The amendment, continues “to that end shall ensure that no student, either undergraduate or postgraduate, who has received an offer to study at such a higher education establishment shall be treated for public policy purposes as an economic migrant to the UK, for the duration of their studies at such an establishment.”

Other amendments

The four peers have also introduced two other amendments requiring the government to not introduce further immigration controls on foreign students and academics, from when the Act is passed.

The issue of whether or not students — who only reside in the UK temporarily — should be included in migration figures has been the subject of heated debate in the UK, both in Parliament and in the media. “Now, we have this Bill going through which provides an opportunity not just to have a debate but to have some decisions — which is why we put these amendments forward,” Hannay told this paper.

“They are not designed to roll back the measures already put in place but to prevent any additional ones,” he said referring to tightening restrictions government international students.

Removing students from the numbers would send a “hugely important signal there is great concern that the government wants to reduce the number of students to hit migration targets,” said crossbench peer Lord Karan Bilimoria, who has been one of the most vocal critics of government immigration policy in the Lords. While there is no cap on the number of international students able to come to the UK, there is concern that toughening up rules government student visas to reduce their numbers would help the government meet its stated goals of reducing immigration from within and outside the EU.

Losing market share

The debate happens in the context of a sharp decline in Indian students in the UK: according to figures published by Higher Education Statistics Agency earlier this week, the number of Indian students fell to 16,745 in 2015-16 from 29,900 in 2011-12. By contrast Chinese student numbers rose from over 78,000 to over 91,000. Hannay said that as more and more international students sought to study abroad Britain was “losing its share of a rapidly growing market. We are either stationary or falling behind.”

A number of members of the House of Lords have expressed concern about the direction of government policy on international students. In a House of Lords debate in November, Conservative Lord Lucas said that the inclusion of students in the migration figures “means that every time we do something to try to control immigration, which we will be doing pretty frequently, that is read overseas as an attack on overseas students.”

“Our Prime Minister’s recent visit to India demonstrates that our desire to trade will receive a frosty reception if we maintain our attitude on student visas. To paraphrase India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “You want our trade but not our children,” Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe told peers during the same debate.

Hannay says he is optimistic about support for his amendments in the House of Lords, and believes they stand a fair chance of making it through the House of Commons, — where the Bill will return following the third reading in the House of Lords. “I hope it will help turn the page on this very unhappy period in our history where people thought we were a very closed and unwelcoming nation.”

Published on January 15, 2017
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