The latest MPs to join the increasingly polemic ‘students as migrants’ debate, which has been winning headlines in the UK press recently, are a Conservative and Labour MP who over the weekend published a joint article in newspaper, The Sunday Times hoping to build a cross party consensus on the issue.
“Recent changes to the student visa system have unfortunately broadcast the message that foreign students are unwelcome,” wrote Labour MP from Sheffield Paul Blomfield and Nadhim Zawahi, Conservative MP for Stratford-upon-Avon. “We’ve already seen a dramatic fall in students coming from traditional markets like India.”
UK higher education exports alone contribute almost £8bn a year to Britain’s economy; a figure Bloomfield and Zawahi argue contributes to facilities and teaching for domestic students. “Our borders policy should not be in competition with our growth policy. After all, it’s not the case that international students are displacing domestic students, the revenue they bring in helps to subsidise facilities and teaching for UK-born students.”
“Our borders policy should not be in competition with our growth policy”
The MPs argue that taking students out of the net migration numbers would also allow the country to be more competitive with the other big players like the US and Australia who have both recently relaxed migration policy after seeing international student numbers fall.
Speaking with The PIE News, Bloomfield said the policy has damaged the UK’s ability to recruit students from overseas. “I’m pleased that the article has helped to put the spotlight on this important issue, and I hope the government will listen and rethink this area of policy.”
Since an Institute of Public Policy Research report claimed that ministers had included overseas students in the government’s net migration count as a way of manipulating the migration tally, 70 university heads have written a letter to the Prime Minister urging him to review the policy. And Labour party leader Ed Miliband has recently come out criticising the government for cutting foreign student numbers in order to drive down numbers.
“Under the current system UK Border Agency officers are unable to refuse some applications”
Meanwhile, UK Immigration Minister Damian Green has announced new rules today that will mean interviews for up to 5% of student visa applicants.
Due to start on 30 July , the policy will result in 10,000 to 14,000 applicants for student visas interviewed each year – about 5% of those who apply to come to Britain from outside Europe. The new move gives UKBA officials power to deny entry to overseas students after an interview.
“Under the current system UK Border Agency officers are unable to refuse some applications even if they have serious concerns over the credibility of the student. We are toughening up the system to keep out the fraudulent and unqualified while ensuring genuine students benefit from our country’s excellent education sector,” said Green.
Update: Immigration Minister Damian Green met with the Home Affairs Committee on 10 July and denied rumours that the government would make a u-turn on its policy to not include international students in net migration figures. Green said that students, like other immigrants, use public services and that “trying to define our way out of the problem of uncontrolled immigration is wrong”.