Her official spokesman told a Westminster briefing on Tuesday: “The position of the Prime Minister on this is clear.
“The international definition of an immigrant is someone who arrives for a period of more than 12 months.”
May has been under pressure to reconsider her stance on including international students in net migration figures from politicians from across UK parties and is said to be “in a minority of one” by one cabinet minister, amid opposition from cabinet colleagues.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have all reportedly warned of the potential damage of including students in the official statistics.
“There is no conflict between our commitment to reduce net migration and to attract international students”
Removing students from the figures could help the government reach its long-term target of cutting net migration to under 100,000.
In a letter to Catherine West MP dated November 24th, Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis wrote that including international students in the net migration target did not act to the detriment of either the education sector or students.
“As long as students leave at the end of their studies, they should not be significantly contributing to net migration, therefore there is no conflict between our commitment to reduce net migration and to attract international students,” it read.
Labour’s official position, set out on its website, says that “[international students] are not permanent residents and we will not include them in immigration numbers, but we will crack down on fake colleges”.
Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan voiced his position on Twitter.
“For our city and country to succeed and prosper, I have long argued that it is vital international students are removed from the annual migration target.”
Leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable, a longtime supporter of not including visiting students in official figures, also took to Twitter to support the proposals to remove students from the count.
“About time. Seven year battle to change absurd Home Office policy. Inflamed worries about immigration numbers. And hit universities,” he wrote.
“We know the statistics are wrong, but we don’t know why they are wrong”
However, Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford told The PIE News that taking students out of government targets or statistics would be much more difficult than it sounds.
“[This is a] source of confusion. Two things that people talk about doing – the question of taking students out of the target or the system,” according to Sumption.
She said that the ONS collects data by asking people at airports to determine why they are coming to the UK – an equivalent of which most other countries do not have.
But, Sumption stated that there is known to be a problem with the data, which means that taking students out of official statistics would lead to inaccurate figures.
“We know the statistics are wrong, but we don’t know why they are wrong. It would take a number of years for ONS to correct that.”
“What the UK is doing is not out of line with what other countries are doing. [The UK] just has more statistics that other countries do not have,” Sumpton added.
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.
In 2015, George Osborne, then the Chancellor of the Exchequer hinted that the UK would take non-EU overseas students out of net migration figures.
Osborne rejected proposals made by May, then Home Secretary, to increase English language requirements and restrict dependents’ work rights.
Osborne is now the editor of the London Evening Standard, which ran one of the stories quoted by Khan and others, describing the pressure mounting on the prime minister.