Are students responsible for the fall in net migration?

3 December 2012

"Official figures show there's been a significant fall in net migration to the UK. In the 12 months to the end of March, 183,000 more people came to live in Britain than left the country, down a quarter on the number the previous year. The reduction was largely driven by fewer foreign students coming to the UK to study."

The World at One, BBC 4, November 29, 2012

Last week, the Home Office revealed that this year saw the most significant fall in net migration since the Coalition came to power. The figure has fallen by a quarter - by 59,000 - meaning that 183,000 more people entered the country than left it last year. 

What's the dispute?

The Immigration Minister was on the World at One last week to defend the Government's immigration reforms which, despite delivering the intended fall in net migration, were under scrutiny for failing to deliver on its expressed intentions: to favour the education sector. 

Boris Johnson, the Institute of Directors (IoD) and business organisations voiced their concern that universities were suffering from the tougher stance. The IoD in particular said that if the Government doesn't reconsider the inclusion of students in its net migration target, it will undermine business and cause further damage to our successful education sector.  

What's driving the decline?

During the show, Martha Kearney said the decline was driven by a reduction in the number of students coming into Britain from outside the European Union. In response, immigration minister Mark Harper said:

"The fall isn't just from reduction in students, but also for those coming in to work, because we made sure only skilled workers can come in here, and a reduction in those coming in by other routes."

The claim

Mark Harper said there's been an increase in number of students getting visas for our university sector, and that the largest fall is in the student sector where we were seeing most abuse. Martha Kearney says the number of overseas students coming into the UK is stagnating. 

What do the Home Office figures reveal?

According to the Home Office, there were falls "in visas issued for work, study and family reasons, and also fewer extensions of stay and fewer permissions to stay permanently (settlement)."  If we zoom into each sector, we do see that student numbers are indeed contributing to the decline. 

This year there were 29% fewer sponsored student visa applications, and 26% fewer study visas issued. 

"Admissions of those for the purposes of study in 2011 (267,000) have also fallen by 10% compared to 2010 (296,000). The International Passenger Survey estimates for long term student migration for the year ending March 2012 have fallen by 7% (163,000) compared with the previous 12 months (175,000)."

Where we did see an increase, in accordance with what Mark Harper was saying on the World at One, is in the number of sponsored student visa applications for the university sector: the increase was however by a scant 1%. A 12% increase in the number of student visit visas issued was also recorded: the number went up to 66,569 in the year ending September 2012. It's worth noting, however, that in contrast to study visas, student visit visas are for short-term study (around 6 months) and cannot be extended.

Of course this doesn't necessarily mean that British universities are losing talent as a result, and the Government has claimed that previous years had seen a large number of 'bogus' students entering the country by this route. However it is fair to say that student numbers are largely contributing to the decline in net migration to the UK.

There are plenty more factors to consider, for example there were 28% fewer people (132,099) granted permission to stay permanently "largely accounted for by fewer family formation and reunion, employment-related and "other" grants."

Overall, according to ONS figures, there were 238,000 people arriving to study in the UK. In 2011 that number dropped to 232,000, whereas 213,000 migrants arrived to study in the year to March 2012. The decline in the number of foreign university students has been undoubtedly dropping with consistency. 


Flickr image courtesy of Cody Austin

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