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Why call for the exclusion of international students from immigration numbers?

By Surya Rajkumar

Since Theresa May took over as Prime Minister in July 2016, differences have materialized among the Tory MPs on various issues. Among such topics are the students in the net migration (the difference between emigrants and immigrants) figures. As of 2016, the net migration in U.K. stands at 248,000. While the rhetoric within the conservative party seeks to reduce net migration to ‘tens of thousands’, the manifesto aims to reduce net migration to 100,000. With the net flow of students being 90,000 a year, high stakes for students would arise if this target were to be met. Chancellor Philip Hammond and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson also want students removed from the official migration statistics.

In October last year, Downing Street said it isn’t categorically reviewing whether foreign students should be excluded. Since then, the government’s approach hasn’t changed much. In March this year, the House of Lords voted 313 to 219 for the removal of overseas students from migration figures. It also voted to back an amendment to the Higher Education and Research Bill. This bill, however, was overturned by the House of Commons in April. The ultimate effects of such a move would not only be borne by international students but also the British economy and British educational institutions. Despite disadvantages, the Prime Minister is highly keen on the prohibition of the exclusion of students from these figures.

The stats say it all

A research by Oxford Economics showed that in the year 2014-15 alone, the spending by international students supported 206,600 jobs in the United Kingdom. It also confirmed that on and off campus spending by international students and their visitors generated an impact of £25.8 billion in gross output in the UK. The impact on the economy would be drastic if there are curbs on students entering the UK. The other losers would be UK educational institutions in terms of research and their international rankings. International students help sustain the UK’s research base especially in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. They account for over 40% of UK postgraduate students, 50% of those doing full-time research degrees. UK institutions have an estimated 438,010 international students pursuing higher education.

With Theresa may committing Tories to cut net migration to tens of thousands, the rankings of British educational institutions will take a take a huge blow.

Why look beyond for ulterior motives

As of June 2015, 192,000 students come a year to study in the U.K. Going by the methodology employed by QS rankings, the employer reputation will be affected as many international students get recruited from colleges in the UK. Additionally, citations per faculty may reduce since research output measures it and international students help sustain the UK’s research base. The international student ratio will be affected drastically as the net migration target is likely to reduce the number of international students.

Thus, curbing the entry of international students is likely to affect 40% of the reputation of British educational institutions. It is not to suggest that there would be absolutely no foreign students in the U.K., however, the impact on the school rankings would be negative. Moreover, taking students out of the net migration calculations might not change the figure much. It is increasingly difficult for international students to stay in Britain after their studies as the government abolished post-study work visas in 2012. Theresa May has been resolute with this decision. Thus it becomes important to examine the reasons behind such resoluteness.

Brits, in general, say otherwise

It is argued that excluding students from the net migration figures might affect the prospects of the Conservative party. It was the Conservatives who announced with much fanfare on the reduction of net migration figures to 100,000 by including students initially and then excluding them.

There is, however, no reason to be alarmed as a poll found that three-quarters of United Kingdom’s population do not consider overseas students as immigrants. The Prime Minister defends herself by saying that UN recognizes students as long-term immigrants. While this is true, countries like the U.S., Canada, and Australia have classified students as temporary immigrants. Students are in the net migration figures because it is in the international definition of net migration, abiding by the same definition used by other countries around the world.

Lastly, it is argued that removing students will open the demand for other exemptions. This, however, is not a credible argument as public opinion is in favour of granting students exemptions. The Prime Minister, on this issue, has said, “We have a very clear position in terms of net migration. We want to bring that down to sustainable levels. We have said those sustainable levels are the tens of thousands.”

Reserve the right to reconsider

As an aspiring student who wishes to study in the UK in the future, it is of my considered opinion that institutions like Oxford, Cambridge, London School of Economics or any other UK institutions with international reputations, are perceived to be world institutions. They do not exclusively belong to the UK. The institutions that would be affected as a result of this move are those that have produced prominent leaders and global luminaries from various walks of life. Such is the testimony to the diversity of these institutions. It is, however, sad to reckon with the possibility that these very institutions may lose students who contribute to their reputation. Nonetheless, there is reason to be optimistic as the Prime Minister herself is under pressure from Tory MPs to exclude international students from net migration figures. I sincerely hope the PM realizes the damage that could be done to the British economy and British educational institutions in including students in the net migration figures. It is imperative that she reviews her immigration policy in the context of international students.

Surya Rajkumar is a law student at the O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana. He has been published at various sources including the Oxford University’s Human Rights blog. He writes on issues related to International Law and Indian Geopolitics. Rajkumar is also the deputy contributing editor at Coldnoon travel journal.

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