LONDON: Prime Minister Theresa May appeared to be rethinking the inclusion of Indian and non-EU students in the overall migration figures after at least two recent official reports concluded that the vast majority of international students return at the end of their studies.
In her previous role of home secretary, May had cracked down on bogus colleges and closed the post-study work visa as part of steps to bring down overall immigration, which has been a major promise of the Conservative party since the 2010 election.
Removing high fee-paying international students from migration data has been a long-standing demand by the higher education sector, since the post-2010 curbs have led to negative perceptions abroad and an over 50% drop in the number of Indian students.
May’s latest thinking on the issue was evident during her recent trip to China, when she said : “It was important to look at what was happening with students in the UK when I was home secretary”.
“There was a lot of abuse taking place in colleges – something like 900 colleges can no longer bring in overseas students because all too often they were being brought in to work, rather than for education. Once you see that abuse out of the system, students coming in for the period of their education and then leaving actually wash through the numbers – they don’t have a long-term impact on the numbers.”
May did not budge from her view that Indian and non-EU students should continue to be counted in migration figures. But her rethink is seen as a welcome development in view of plans by opposition Labour and other parties to move an amendment to remove students from migration figures in the Brexit-related immigration bill to be introduced in the House of Commons (where the May government does not have a majority) later this year.
Several leading members of May’s government are also in favour of excluding students, since they not only leave after studies but also contribute over 25 billion pounds every year to the UK economy, besides contributing in other areas.
Three factors have led to the growing cross-party consensus that non-EU students should not be part of the net migration target: latest official reports reveal that contrary to previous claims, most international students return after studies; the need to project a global outlook post-Brexit; and the Theresa May government’s dependence on outside support to remain in office.
A spokesperson for Universities UK, the umbrella organisation for all UK universities, said: “Two official reports published last summer revealed that there is very high visa compliance by international students. The number of students overstaying their visas is a tiny fraction of previous (incorrect) claims”.
“Polling has shown that the British public does not see international students as long-term migrants, but as valuable, temporary visitors. There is now an opportunity to make sure that a reshaped, post-Brexit immigration system encourages qualified international students to choose the UK,” it said.
“If the UK wants to remain a top destination for international students and staff, it is more important than ever that we project a welcoming message to talented people from across the world”.
Removing non-EU students from the migration target may not immediately bring back the post-study work visa that was popular among self-financing Indian students – and abolished in 2012 – but some efforts are already on to make it easier for them to find work here after studies.
A visa pilot introduced in July 2016 at four UK universities has now been extended to 23 more universities, allowing their non-EU students more time to find work after studies. It still remains difficult for non-EU students to secure employment and switch visa categories, but the extension is seen as a positive development.__Hindustan Times