Speaking to the Commons Treasury select committee on Tuesday, Osborne told MPs: “The current way the UK calculates its migration numbers they [migrants] are included, but if you talk about the government’s commitment on reducing migration, I would say where that strikes a public chord and has public sympathy is where we are trying to reduce permanent migration to the country.”
He added: “Students come and go, and I think that is a good thing for the UK.”
“I would say where that strikes a public chord and has public sympathy is where we are trying to reduce permanent migration to the country”
Echoing comments he made in last week’s autumn statement, Osborne also shut down previous proposals made by Home Secretary Theresa May to increase English language requirements and restrict dependents’ work rights.
“They’re not government proposals. I’m not aware that there has been any agreement in the government or any hard and fast proposals that have been discussed. As I say, these are not government policy; we are not advancing them,” he told MPs.
Since 2012, university leaders, heads of business and MPs including former universities minister David Willetts, have called for overseas students to be removed from net migration figures.
Currently, foreign students are counted as part of overall migrants coming to the UK and have become the target of the government’s efforts to reduce that number to the “tens of thousands”.
However, the latest figures for net migration to the UK published last week showed they hit a new record of 336,000 in the 12 months to June.
“The Office for National Statistics is an independent organisation. But there this is a lively debate in all circles about how this number [net migration] is best calculated in the UK,” said Osborne.
This isn’t the first time that May and Osborne have publicly clashed over policy affecting international students and the business secretary Sajid Javid and foreign secretary Philip Hammond are said to back Osborne, leaving May isolated on the issue.
However, Osborne said he supported the Home Office’s work to close down bogus colleges and crackdown on people seeking student visas fraudulently. But reiterated that the government wants to support universities that want to increase their overseas student numbers.
“Students come and go, and I think that is a good thing for the UK”
Osborne’s comments came hours after Nick Timothy, a former aide to May, writing on the Conservative Home website, accused the chancellor of trying to weaken immigration control.
“The spending review settlement between the Treasury and the Business Department is predicated upon the recruitment of an additional 55,000 non-EU foreign students by 2019/20, which it is estimated will raise £1 billion and take the total number of these students to 320,000,” he wrote.
“No work appears to have been done to estimate the costs of this additional immigration, such as its effect on the housing stock or public services, no thought seems to have been given to whether policy ought to distinguish between the brightest students and the rest, and no consideration appears to have been made about whether these students will ever return home.”