Leaked document undermines UK government’s claims of rampant visa abuse by international students

The percentage of international students who remain in the UK after their visa has expired is far lower than what has been previously stated by some of the country’s leading political figures, according to a report by The Times.

Independent non-political party Migration Watch recently estimated that between 2010-2013, around 100,000 students have “vanished”, or not left the country, after completing their studies.

In contrast, immigration statistics suggest that the number may even be as low as one percent, or a mere 1,500, out of the hundreds of thousands of non-EU students who come to the UK to study.

A source told the paper that while some students applied to switch to other visa categories, such as the Tier 2 skilled work visa, the majority return to their home countries.

The statistics were taken from the recently-reintroduced exit checks, which provide details of travellers leaving British borders, and allow the government to determine exactly who has left, and who is still in the country.

The checks provide enough details to allow the government to know exactly how many international students have left on time, and how many have overstayed.

However, prior to the daily’s report on Thursday, which was based on a leaked government document, the findings were not published.

This is likely due to the fact that Prime Minister Theresa May’s administration is keen to restrict the number of foreign students, and releasing the figures would put a dent on calls for a crackdown.

In response to the report, the Home Office has claimed that the data was inconclusive, as the study was “not completed”.

A Home Office spokesman, as quoted by The Telegraph, said: “We do not recognise the one percent figure.”

It has also refused requests to show the report to other government departments or release it under the Freedom of Information Act.

Though Whitehall is looking to reduce net migration figures by curbing the intake of international students, a recent poll of the UK public has shown that only a quarter (24 percent) of British adults consider international students as immigrants.

Conducted by ComRes for Universities UK, over 2,000 people were asked for their views on the issue, and when told that overseas students at British universities are currently worth over £10.7 billion to the UK economy, 87 percent expressed their support for having the same number, or more, of international students coming in.

The poll also found that the overwhelming majority of respondents (91 percent) think that international students should be able to stay and work in the UK for a period of time after they have completed their studies.

University UK’s Chief Executive, Nicola Dandridge, said: “These findings are a clear indication that any new policies aimed at lowering net migration figures by reducing the number of overseas students will not address public concerns over immigration.

“It is very clear that a majority of the public recognises that international students are valuable, temporary visitors that make an important economic and cultural contribution to the UK.”

According to research, foreign students support over 170,000 jobs in local communities across the UK.

Dandridge added that other popular study destinations – such as the U.S., Australia, and Canada – were implementing policies to attract more international students, but the UK government was going the other way, which may be to its detriment.

“The negative economic impact of a reduction in international student numbers would be felt by local communities across the UK,” she said.

She added that during their studies, international students support regional economies, create jobs, supply high-level graduate skills, and ensure the sustainability of many courses at a regional level.

“Many international students return home having forged strong links in this country that provide long-term, ‘soft power’ and trade benefits for the UK,” said Dandridge.

Image via Associated Press

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