According to ONS, in the 12 months to September 2011 there was a marginal decrease in net migration – the number of people coming to the UK for more than a year minus those leaving permanently – to 252,000. This is down just 3,000 on the previous year and miles off the official target of fewer than 100,000 by 2015.
“Our tough new rules are now making a real difference”
However, Immigration Minister Damian Green said the fall in student visa issuance from January to March showed government policies were beginning to bite. “Our tough new rules are now making a real difference with a record 62% drop in student visas in the first quarter of 2012, and overall falls in work visas, family numbers and people settling,” he said.
The news comes just a week after a left-leaning think tank, the Institute of Public Policy Research, claimed the government was gaming the net migration tally by including students. Students are currently the biggest migrant group in the UK, accounting for 250,000 of new arrivals in the year to September 2011 – up slightly from 245,000 in the previous year.
However, major study destinations such as the USA and Canada do not include students in net migration figures because of their temporary status – something critics argue should apply in Britain as well.
“We are still in the middle of the applications process…the key time will be in the coming summer months”
Dr Martin Ruhs of Oxford University’s Migration Observatory said: “Work, family and ‘other’ migration from outside the EU are at a very similar level to where they were in 2000, but non-EU students coming to the UK have increased substantially, which has been a big contributor to the challenges that the government faces in hitting its target.”
While the fall in quarter one issuance is considerable, Universities UK said it was too early to tell what the end of year figures would be.
A spokesperson said: “We are still in the middle of the applications process for the next academic year and the key time will be in the coming summer months… In the long-term, the message must be heard, loud and clear, that the UK continues to welcome genuine international students.”