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House of Lords Hansard
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Immigration: International Students
26 March 2018
Volume 790

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will now consider removing international students from the net migration statistics.

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare my interest as set out in the register.

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My Lords, migration statistics are produced by the independent Office for National Statistics, which follows international best practice. The Government do not intend to seek to influence this. There is no plan to limit the number of genuine international students who can come to the UK and, in 2017, the number of university-sponsored visas issued rose by 6%.

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My Lords, international students contribute well over £20 billion to the economy —an economic boon for Britain. Currently, more than 50 Heads of State or Prime Ministers were educated in UK higher education. Show me a more successful piece of soft power. In light of this, will my noble friend consider the pilot for named UK universities for visas and going back to the department and reconsidering removing international students from the net migration figures?

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My noble friend is nothing if not consistent. I am very pleased to tell him, as he mentioned the pilot study, that a further 23 institutions have been selected on the basis of having a consistently low visa refusal rate for their region. The pilot means that universities are responsible for eligibility checks, so students applying for their visa can submit fewer documents alongside their visa applications. The pilot also helps to support students who wish to switch to a work route and take up a graduate role by extending the leave period following the end of their study by up to six months.

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My Lords, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, on his Question and supplementary, with which I agree totally, does the Minister agree with Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK, who says that,

“it is important to remember that international students also enrich our campuses and the experience of UK students, both academically and culturally Many return home having built strong professional and personal links here that provide long-term, ‘soft power’ benefits for the UK”.

I declare an interest as Her Majesty’s Government’s trade envoy to Taiwan, which, I am happy to say, sends the UK more than 16,000 students a year.

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I am very happy to agree with both the noble Lord and, of course, my noble friend. We absolutely acknowledge that international students enrich the economy and, indeed, this country. We have no plans at all to cap the numbers—in fact, we encourage them, hence we are expanding the pilot.

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My Lords—

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My Lords—

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Hannay!

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My Lords, it is an invidious choice between the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Green, but I think the noble Lord, Lord Green, was attempting to rise to his feet earlier.

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I am grateful to the noble Earl, and I hope that I may also be nothing if not consistent. Is the noble Baroness aware that the number of foreign nationals in the UK who arrive to study is, according to the Labour Force Survey, 1 million? In that case, is it not surely essential that they should be included in the migration statistics, as the ONS intends and as the Royal Statistical Society has recommended? It is a question not of who is allowed in but of counting them as they come and go.

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The noble Lord is absolutely right. Earlier this year, the Royal Statistical Society agreed with that approach and said that,

“we believe it is imperative for due attention to be paid to the international definitions of migration, which lead to the inclusion of students in the figures”.

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My Lords, is it not a fact that the combination of Home Office measures has had a dampening impact on overseas recruitment and we are losing market share? Coming back to the issue of statistics, the Minister’s own department’s official statistics in August last year showed that 95% of international students coming from outside the EU were fully accounted for, either by leaving to go back home or by receiving an extension of their leave to be here because they are extending their studies. What is the problem with the Home Office in coming to a sensible resolution of this?

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The noble Lord is absolutely right that 95% of students—I thought it was slightly more—are compliant. However, I dispute his point about discouraging students. As I said in reply to the original Question, student numbers were up 6% this year. However, if people come here and require services such as housing or other sorts of public services, those figures have to be considered in all sorts of ways when planning for the population that is resident here.

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My Lords, will the Minister consider that what may be gained in the numbers is lost by the message as it is heard: foreigners are not welcome, and the British do not understand the international nature of learning?

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My Lords, the message that is going out appears to be from your Lordships’ House and is not being heard internationally. Much has been made of applications from India. Last year, the numbers granted increased by 28%. I dispute that students are not feeling welcome in this country. They are applying in their droves.

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My Lords, my noble friend will acknowledge that this House has repeatedly discussed this issue in great detail and with near unanimity. What is the real obstacle to separating the students from those who are coming indefinitely? Doing so would be sensible; it would encourage our universities; and it would give a message that the doors really are open for students throughout the world.

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My Lords, I think I have explained that, given the increases in visa applications and grants that have happened in the last 12 months—in fact, since 2010—students are not deterred from coming to this country to gain a world-class education. I think I have explained, too, that if students were not counted, we may not be able to plan accordingly for some of the vital services that people who live here use.