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97% of international students leave UK after studies

New figures emerging from the UK today suggest that previous concerns of large numbers of overstayers using the student visa route have been inflated, and 97% of international students leave the UK after their studies.

Photo: The PIE News

"We want to have a robust and independent evidence base of their value and the impact they have"

This data is based on new exit checks introduced last year and has prompted Home Secretary Amber Rudd to ask the Migration Advisory Committee to undertake a detailed study of the impact of international students in the UK.

The 97% figure was revealed in a government document – it does not include students which obtained further extension to remain – and is described as “experimental data” from the first calendar year of the exit checks program.

Today’s report also gives us a more comprehensive picture of the compliance of visa holders”

Despite praise for the Office of National Statistics in Home Secretary Rudd’s commissioning letter to the MAC, the new border checks are described by a Home Office spokesperson as a more thorough check on who is crossing the UK than the previous ONS figures which used the controversial International Passenger Survey.

Today’s report also gives us a more comprehensive picture of the compliance of visa holders, clearly showing that the vast majority of people are following immigration rules and that the action we’re taking to clamp down on illegal immigration is working,” they said. 

In what could be interpreted as warmer language being used about the sector, Rudd commented, “We understand how important students from around the world are to our higher education sector, which is a key export for our country, and that’s why we want to have a robust and independent evidence base of their value and the impact they have.”

Acting director of the Russell Group Tim Bradshaw welcomed the new data and the MAC study. 

“This exit check data confirms that in addition to helping create a diverse learning environment and making a big economic impact, an overwhelming majority of international students comply fully with the terms of their visas,” he said in a statement. 

“The first step towards ensuring we have a system that is fit for purpose is accurate data. The decision to reintroduce exit checks was a welcome move on the part of the Home Office in this regard. This publication is an important step forwards, as is the announcement of a MAC review of the value of student migration to the UK,” Bradshaw added. 

The MAC will be asked to examine the impact both EU and non-EU students have on the labour market and economy while in the UK.

Issues the MAC will be asked to consider will include:

  • the impact of tuition fees and other spending by international students on the national, regional, and local economy and on the education sector
  • the role students play in contributing to local economic growth
  • the impact their recruitment has on the provision and quality of education provided to domestic students

This is the second study the MAC have been asked to undertake by Rudd in as many months. In July the Home Office commissioned the independent committee to look into the impact of EU migration on the UK economy, in order to assist its design of a post-Brexit immigration policy.

There had been reports in the UK press last year that the Home Office was sitting on a report based on exit checks revealing only 1% of foreign students overstay, which the Home Office denied to The PIE News.

But today’s 3% overstay figure, which equates to around 3,300 students, is a big shift from the era of the TOIEC scandal in 2014 when the government was concerned about up to 50,000 “fraudulent” students.

At this time, a BBC undercover investigation revealing fraud among the onshore international student population at three separate colleges, led to a subsequent government investigation claiming up to 46,000 test scores had been fraudulently obtained and 19,000 students had their studies curtailed.

“We welcome the government’s commitment to a detailed examination of the net benefits of international students”

A subsequent immigration tribunal in 2016 found the government lacked evidence to support its visa curtailment actions, using “limited hearsay evidence”.

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said of the new MAC study commissioned today, “We welcome the government’s commitment to a detailed examination of the net benefits of international students.

“This is an opportunity to build on the considerable evidence that shows that international students have a very positive impact on the UK economy and local communities.”

Recent research by Oxford Economics for Universities UK showed that international students generate more than £25bn for the economy and support over 200,000 jobs in communities across the UK.

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