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Student Immigration

Volume 588: debated on Monday 17 November 2014

3. When she next plans to meet the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to discuss student immigration. (906020)

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary meets colleagues regularly for discussions on a range of issues, including on how we can continue to attract the brightest and the best to the UK while bearing down on abuse.

The Government’s arbitrary immigration target has clearly been shown to be both unworkable and misguided. A particularly misguided aspect is the decision to include international students in the target. There is now consensus—from the Labour party, political parties across the House and even Government Members, as well as from universities, trade unions and business—that the target should not include international students. Will the Home Secretary and the Minister join that consensus?

The short answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is no, we will not, because students continue to use public services. If we look at the Office for National Statistics data for the 12 months to September 2013, we see that 50,000 non-EU students left, whereas 124,000 entered the country, which suggests that students have an impact on net migration.

I say to the hon. Gentleman and the sector generally that there is no cap on the number of legitimate students who can come to study within the UK. Indeed, we have seen significant increases from a number of countries, including China, Brazil and Malaysia. The UK very much remains open to business for students.

The Minister spoke at the Home Affairs Committee seminar on international students, but at the sessions in which he did not speak, there was heavy criticism of his policies. Indeed, the director general of the Institute of Directors, Simon Walker, said:

“When some politician in the House of Commons thinks it would be wonderful to say something [detrimental] about international students, or some clever minister thinks of sending out a van to hound immigrants, they don’t think what it would look like in international papers.”

Will the Minister listen to the voices of the Institute of Directors, universities and the business sector, and look again at such policies?

The hon. Gentleman will no doubt have heard from reports of that particular session in the conference hosted by the Home Affairs Committee that I made it very clear that we approach this issue in a measured fashion. The number of visa applications for our universities has gone up 5% this year, with an 8% increase for Russell Group universities. I very clearly say to the sector that trying to talk down the offer we have is not in the best interests of the sector or of our country. I certainly look forward to continuing to work with the sector to ensure that we attract students to our world-class institutions.