UK MPs ask Prime Minister to remove students from immigration figures

The chairmen and chairwoman of five influential UK parliamentary committees have signed an open letter to the UK's Prime Minister David Cameron asking him to remove international students from the UK immigration figures. They claim that this will help stimulate the UK's economy, particularly in university towns and will improve the country's balance of payments.

Adrian Bailey, (Labour) chairman of the innovation and skills select committee, Keith Vaz (Labour) chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Margaret Hodge (Labour) chairwoman of the public accounts select committee, independent peer Lord Hannay, chairman of the European committee on home affairs and independent peer Lord Krebs who is chairman of the science and technology committee all signed the letter.

'Unprecedented' consensus

The chairmen and woman said in their letter 'we believe that this degree of consensus between committees of both houses is unprecedented.' They ask the Prime Minister to 'reconcile the remaining tensions between visa policy and aspirations for growth by removing international university students from the net migration target.' They said that university applications from India had fallen by 23% in 2011/12. They called for 'further action to encourage international university students to choose to study in the UK'. The chairmen said that export education contributes greatly to the UK economy and balance of payments.

The net immigration figure is important because the government has committed itself to reducing net inward immigration to below 100,000 a year by 2015. The commitment came when David Cameron appeared on the BBC's Sunday morning politics programme, The Andrew Marr Show in January 2010 when he was the leader of the opposition.

Mr Cameron said that immigration, which then stood at about 260,000 a year, was too high under the then Labour government. Andrew Marr asked him what level would be acceptable. Mr Cameron said that he would reduce net immigration to 'tens of thousands' over the course of the parliament. This has always been taken to mean a commitment to reduce immigration to less than 100,000 by 2015.

However, critics say, it is impossible to cut net immigration to below 100,000 without damaging the export education sector. The net immigration figure is arrived at by taking the total number of immigrants in any year and subtracting the number of emigrants. In the year to December 2011, net immigration was 216,000. The actual number of immigrants was estimated at 566,000. The number of emigrants was 350,000. Of the 566,000 immigrants, 238,000 were students. It is hard to cut the number of people allowed to come to the UK to settle with their family. So, critics say, the only way to reach the 100,000 figure would be to cut the number of students radically.

'Impossible' to reach target without damaging UK education sector

The government has made some progress in cutting the net immigration figure. It now stands at 180,000. However, the Institute for Public Policy Research, a left-of-centre think tank, issued a report in December 2012, in which it stated that the government would fail to meet its target of reducing immigration to 100,000 a year by 2015. The report also said that most of the progress that the government had made had come as a result of cutting the numbers of international students.

Yesterday, immigration minister Mark Harper denied that the government's efforts to cut migration were damaging the education sector. He said that the most recent figures show an increase in the number of students applying to UK universities. The figures from the UK's university admissions body Ucas show that applicants from outside the European Economic Area rose by 9.6% last year. Mr Harper said that this shows that the UK is still 'open to the brightest and the best'.

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