Heseltine: Exempt students from immigration cuts
06 September 2014
Lord Heseltine has argued that foreign students should be excluded from current immigration reduction targets.
Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to reduce annual net migration to under 100,000 by 2015, whilst Home Secretary Theresa May spoke about reducing it to tens of thousands. However, the Office for National Statistics estimated that net long-term migration to the UK was 212,000 in 2013.
Speaking to the BBC, Heseltine (former deputy prime minister) said that removing non-EU students from official immigration figures would reduce the risk of damaging UK universities due to the "lack of finance that follows". He added that foreign students who study in the UK go on to be "ambassadors" for the UK after they have graduated.
On Radio 4's Today programme, he expanded on this, saying that people who are seen as part of the immigration problem often have limited qualifications, no jobs and put a strain on the UK’s resources. By contrast, the public "do not see students who come and go as part of the immigration problem."
Labour’s shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna, also weighed in on this argument: "Higher education is one of the UK’s biggest exports, worth over £10bn a year to our economy." Despite this, he says that many people abroad have been "given the impression that we are closed for business".
According to Universities UK and thinktank British Future, the general public in the UK do not consider international students as immigrants and do not think their numbers should be cut. In a survey of 2,000 people, 59% said the government should not reduce the number of international students, even if this makes it more difficult to reduce net immigration.
Additionally, 75% were in favour of allowing international students to stay on and work after they have finished their degrees, echoing the view that skilled immigrants can bring a lot to the UK.
Professor Sir Christopher Snowden, president of Universities UK, said: "With international students being caught up in efforts to bear down on immigration, there is a perception internationally that the UK is closed for business and does not welcome students... The call to remove international students from any net migration target has clear public support."
However, despite arguments from politicians, the general public, universities and other organisations, the Home Office has said that students will continue to be included in its statistics. In a statement, the Home Office said that students still have "an impact on our communities and our public services" and should therefore be counted.