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UK: only 1% of international students overstay, suggests buried government report

Just 1% of international students in the UK ‘overstay’ their visas, according to an analysis that the Home Office commissioned but has refused to release to the public or to other government departments. The Home Office denies the existence of a “secret” report, but says it is gathering data on the new exit checks on the UK border introduced last year.

Only 1% of international students stay in the UK after their visa has expiredPhoto: Flickr/David McKelvey.

The Home Office has refused to show the report to other government departments

An account of the report given to The Times of London appears to contradict statistics cited by ministers that suggest thousands of international students are flouting their visa conditions by staying on after their visa has expired.

“There is no secret report and we do not recognise the 1% figure”

The data suggests that around 1,500 international students overstay annually based on data from the 12 months of exit checks to April 2016 that include students who left before their visa expired, switched to a different visa or overstayed.

However, there may be additional students sponsored by language schools, technical colleges and private colleges who could overstay their visas. 

The Home Office has reportedly refused to show the report to other government departments or to release it under the Freedom of Information Act, arguing that it is incomplete and inconclusive. As such, The Times was unable to access the report but was given a partial account of the findings by a source.

“There is no secret report and we do not recognise the 1% figure,” a Home Office spokesperson told The PIE News, adding: “We are continuing to analyse the data collected since exit checks were introduced to ensure that it is statistically robust.”

cumobq4xeaemt2iA statement issued by the Home Office said the level of data needed to ensure the statistics are robust “is not yet available”. It added that data gathering will help the government identify which immigration routes or visas are subject to abuse, and will be used to inform further actions to control immigration.

Mostafa Rajaai, international students’ officer at the National Union of Students, condemned the Home Office for not releasing its analysis of the exit data, saying: “We’ve always said the vast majority of international students comply with immigration rules.”

“It is unacceptable the Home Office is sitting on the findings of its own investigation purely because they do not support its flawed, irresponsible and illogical approach towards international students,” he said.

“We welcome the findings and hope the Home Office, for once, would act on facts rather than deeply embedded misconceptions which often drive its policies towards migrants.”

“It is unacceptable the Home Office is sitting on the findings of its own investigation”

The government currently uses data from the International Passenger Survey, published by the Office of National Statistics, as a basis to suggest that thousands of international students stay on after their studies.

A population briefing published by the ONS in January this year suggests that the majority of those who stay on do so through legal means such as switching to a working visa, but notes that “available data sources cannot currently provide a measure” of how many non-EU nationals remain illegally in the UK after their studies.

A study from IPPR has called these statistics into question, however, finding that they don’t align with other data sources, suggesting that the Home Office may be wildly overestimating the number of international students who stay in the UK.

These figures have driven a series of crackdowns on international student visas in recent years, in an attempt by the government to curb rising net migration.

Last week, Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced the government has plans to restrict student visas still further, by targeting overseas students studying at “lower quality institutions” and postgraduate work prospects.

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