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UK: 3 reasons foreign students still counted in immigration numbers

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The reality of more foreigners, the UK education lobby’s lack of teeth and the Home Office’s muscle have contributed to Theresa May’s decision to continue including international students in immigration statistics, according to a London academic.

University of London‘s Professor Tim Bale made the claim in a letter written in reply to a Financial Times article on the same issue. In the original FT article, the writer had listed down five reasons why the UK Prime Minister wanted students included in migration statistics, despite opposition from her own ministers, namely:

1. May prides herself on being a woman of her word

2. The UN defines international students as long-term migrants

3. The data is not accurate enough to take students out

4. Keeping students “in” increases pressure on universities to bear down on bogus applications

5. Removing students risks opening the floodgates to other exemptions

The first reason cited an opinion poll from October last year which showed the British public did not really think foreign students should be counted as migrants. Instead, refugees, unskilled and highly skilled workers were the top three categories of people who should be, findings showed.

However, foreign students still contribute to demand for housing, transport and other public services, the article noted.

“The burden immigrants place on the state is consistently cited as a problem in polls,” the writer said.

Referring to this, Bale said regardless what the polls say about locals not minding students from abroad, May’s administration “know full well in the real world people find it very difficult to make that distinction”.

“… All they see is more ‘foreigners’ at a time when they want to see fewer of them,” Bale said.

In his second reason, Bale said the education sector’s lobbyists had not placed sufficient pressure on MPs representing areas sometimes referred to as “university seats”.

He acknowledged, however, this was in part due to the fact these MPs come from different parties and that because universities and student populations were often spread across several parliamentary constituencies, it isn’t always easy to identify a particular MP as their representative.

May will continue including international students in immigration statistics. Source: Reuters

Finally, Bale pointed to the nature of “Whitehall”, a term often used as an allusive reference to the British government and its policy.

He said if there were to be a battle over immigration among Whitehall agencies, particularly if one broke out between the departments of business and education, and the Prime Minister’s Office and Home Office, “… everyone knows who the winner will be.”

Last December, the UK’s Home Office was reported to be looking at halving the number of international students to the country, using data which implied thousands of international students have overstayed after graduation.

Public and industry backlash have steadily continued since, many criticising the reliability of the data used, as well as stating the harm it would make to the economy.

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