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Net Migration Figures: International Students

Volume 604: debated on Monday 11 January 2016

The independent Office for National Statistics includes international students in its net migration calculations. Like other migrants, international students who stay for longer than 12 months have an impact on communities, infrastructure and services while they are here. We continue to welcome the brightest and best to study at our world-leading institutions. There remains no limit on the number of genuine international students who can come to study in the UK.

The Minister will be aware that the UK Statistics Authority and others have expressed concern about the robustness of the international passenger survey and that, therefore, the contribution of students to net migration may be significantly lower than thought. How will he ensure that immigration policy is made on the basis of good evidence?

It is the Office for National Statistics that provides the figures. It includes international students in its net migration calculations, as does Australia, Canada and the US. We keep such issues under review all the time, but I underline to the hon. Gentleman that changing the way we measure migration would not make any difference to our policy because there is no limit on the number of genuine international students who can come here to study. We certainly remain open to attracting the brightest and the best.

In Portsmouth, there are 4,000 international students from 130 countries. Does my right hon. Friend agree not only that they help the immediate economy, but that the relationship between such foreign students and Britain should last a lifetime and helps the long-term political and economic future of Britain?

The Government certainly recognise the benefit that international students bring in enriching so many of our university campuses. We want to continue to attract international students to study at our world-leading universities. It is important to note that, since 2010, university visa applications from international students have increased by 17%, and by 39% for Russell Group universities.

Is the Minister not concerned that the word has increasingly gone out to countries such as India and China that Britain is no longer as welcoming a place for international students, and that that is affecting our long-term business relationships quite seriously?

No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s analysis. When we look at the students coming from China, we can see that the numbers have increased by about 9%. The way in which international markets operate can sometimes be quite complex, particularly in countries such as India, where the use of agents can be important. When I go to India later this year, I will certainly underline the clear message that the UK remains an attractive place for students to come to study.

We all welcome international students, but what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that international students who overstay are removed?

My hon. Friend highlights the important point: we want to attract students to come to this country to study, but we also want to ensure that they leave at the end of their time. That was a particular problem under the previous Labour Government, but we are using exit check data to work with the university sector to see that students leave when they have completed their studies.