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Education e-briefing - International Student Immigration - Two Recent Developments

  • United Kingdom
  • Education - Briefings



The issue of immigration is never far from the news and that has been even more the case since the vote to leave the EU and the uncertainty this means for EU (and EEA) nationals living, working or studying in the UK, or those hoping to do so in the future. For many institutions the impact of Brexit on their ability to attract and recruit students from the EU and EEA is going to be of paramount importance, as will any knock on effect on non-EU/EEA students who need to be sponsored under Tier 4.

In this context two recent developments, one on the Government’s commissioning of a study on the impact of international students and the other on the numbers of students remaining illegally in the UK after their studies have ended, are of interest.

Government commissions detailed study of the impact of international students in the UK

On 24 August 2017 the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, wrote to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) asking it to complete a detailed assessment of the social and economic impact of international students in the UK.

The commissioning letter points out that the MAC has never undertaken a full assessment of the impact of international students and, given the new exit check data (referred to below), the Government wants an objective assessment to be carried out.

The assessment is to go beyond the direct impact of students (in the form of tuition fees and spending) and the MAC has been asked to consider the overall economic and social impact of international students in the UK, including advice on the following:

• The impact of tuition fees and other spending by international students on the national, regional, and local economy and on the education sector;

• The economic and social impacts beyond education, including on the labour market, housing, transport and other services, in particular, the role they play in contributing to local economic growth;

• Some breakdown of impacts by type and level of course, and institution; and

• The impact the recruitment of international students has on the provision and quality of education provided to domestic students.

The MAC is asked to look at the whole of the UK, including its constituent nations and regions.

Interestingly, the letter commissioning the study specifically states that this should include “consideration of both EU and non-EU students at all levels of education”. It then says it will use this “improved evidence base” for any future decisions.

The inclusion of international students in the migration statistics has been somewhat controversial for a while, with a number of politicians across the political spectrum suggesting that international students should be removed from these figures. The reason the majority of students are included in the net migration figures is that the definition of an immigrant is an individual who has lived abroad for 12 months or more prior to their arrival in the UK and intends to live in the UK for 12 months or more.

However, the commissioning letter does not suggest that the Government is about to remove students from its figures as it states that “as long as students leave at the end of their studies they should not be significantly contributing to net migration and therefore there is no conflict between our commitment to reduce net migration and to attract international students”.

The MAC has been asked to report by September 2018. On 30 August 2017 it replied to the letter stating that it would shortly produce a call for evidence setting out how stakeholders can get involved in contributing to this work.

New exit check data on students overstaying

Both the Home Office and ONS have published information about immigration and international students. This suggests that the number of students who are staying in the UK illegally after their visa has expired is much less than has previously been stated (the number has been suggested to be as high as 100,000 a year).

The ONS report includes an investigation into exit check data in relation to non-EU students who immigrated on a long-term study visa (12 months or more).

Of the 193,100 students whose visa expiry date was between 8 April 2015 and 7 April 2016 it concluded that 124,000 had departed before visa expiry, 5,600 had departed after visa expiry, 50,300 had extended their leave to remain and for 13,200 the departure had not been initially identified (although that does not necessarily mean that all are still in the UK illegally).

Of the 170,300 students whose visa expiry date was between 8 April 2016 and 7 April 2017 it concluded that 117,700 had departed before visa expiry, 2,500 had departed after visa expiry, 44,100 had extended their leave to remain and for 6,000 the departure had not been initially identified.

The Home Office report looked at a slightly different set of figures which were students coming to the UK to study (either under Tier 4 or the short term study visa route) whose visa expiry date was between April 2016 and April 2017 and had not been granted any extension to stay in the UK. Of these 181,024 the findings were that 176,407 (97.4%) had left the UK in time while the remaining 4,617 (2.6%) had not been identified as departing in time.

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