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UK net migration at record high, prompting further restriction fears

UK Immigration Minister James Brokenshire indicated yesterday that there is “more to do” to decrease the number of non-EU students staying in the country post-graduation.

Despite the Prime Minister wanting to reduce the net migration figures to below 100,000, they have recently reached a record high of 330,000. Photo: flickr/Charles Clout

There was a fall in visa applications for the further education sector, which show a 13% decrease

His statement followed new statistics showing net migration is at the highest it has ever been, and prompted fears that more restrictions may be on the way.

The figures, released yesterday by the Office of National Statistics, show net migration reached 330,000 in the twelve months ending March 2015, which Brokenshire described as “deeply disappointing”.

“The next fear though is that the Migration Advisory Committee might recommend much higher hurdles for students to transfer to Tier 2”

“With nearly 100,000 non-EU students remaining in the UK at the end of their courses and British business still overly reliant on foreign workers in a number of sectors there is much more to do,” he said.

His statement follows efforts to reduce visa abuse and the announcement last month that students at further education colleges must return home immediately after graduating before applying for a new visa.

“The next fear though is that the Migration Advisory Committee might recommend much higher hurdles for students to transfer to Tier 2 when it reports in the autumn,” Dominic Scott, chief executive of the UK Council for International Student Affairs, told The PIE News.

“If it did, we would certainly expect further damage.”

The committee has already been asked to consider increasing the salary thresholds for those seeking a Tier 2, skilled worker visa – the visa used by most international graduates who remain in the UK to work.

The minister also said the government has asked for official advice on reducing economic migration from outside the EU.

The figures show that the number of overseas students coming to the UK reached 188,000 in the year ending March 2015.

Furthermore, it is estimated that 137,000 international students were non-EU long-term immigrants coming to study and who had an intention to remain a year or longer.

However, for the year ending June 2015, Home Office statistics included in the report, which include short-term students staying in the UK for less than a year, show there was a slight decrease in the number of study visas granted.

The number fell by 1% compared to the previous year, to 216,769.

While there was an increase in study visas granted to Chinese nationals (+11%) and Malaysian nationals (+7%), other Asian countries displayed a major decline.

“We have maintained for many years that international students are irrelevant to most peoples’ concerns about immigration”

The number of Indian students granted a visa declined by 10%, Pakistanis by 21% and Bangladeshis by 52%.
Previous falls in students coming from these countries have been attributed to policy changes and restrictions on post-study work for foreign graduates.

In addition, there was also a fall in visa applications for the further education sector, which show a 13% decrease, falling to 17,172, in the same twelve month period to June 2015.

Visa applications from those wanting to study at UK universities showed a small increase of 0.2% to 167,426.

“Many people will be worried that recruitment to universities appears virtually flat – when many other countries are increasing numbers quite substantially, that India is significantly down once again, as is recruitment to FE,” said Scott.

“But given all the recent changes perhaps none of that is surprising,” he added. “One just hopes that some parts of government are looking and listening and seeing the damage being done to an industry with huge potential for growth.”

Prime Minister David Cameron has previously said he wanted to reduce the overall net migration figures to under 100,000.

However, there have been calls from the sector to take international students out of the net migration targets.

“We have maintained for many years that international students are irrelevant to most peoples’ concerns about immigration and should be irrelevant to this whole debate – and of course six Parliamentary committees have recommended that they be excluded from any targets,” said Scott.

Responding to the rise in the net migration statistics, Mark Hilton, director of immigration policy in at London First, said in a statement that the government “mustn’t use this record figure as another excuse to limit the sort of positive immigration that grows our economy”.

“Our world-beating industries need access to talent and skills from around the world in order to remain global leaders,” he said.

“But they are struggling to bring in the talent we lack because they’re hitting government limits for skilled workers.”

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