UK: Pressure mounts to drop international students from migration figures
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May: Source: Reuters/Toby Melville

The pressure to remove students from the UK government’s immigration targets is said to come from a number of high-profile Conservative MPs, including a string of select committee chairs.

Names include Treasury select committee leader Nicky Morgan, Foreign Affairs Committee chair Tom Tugendhat and Parliament’s Justice Select Committee current chair Bob Neill, according to The Guardian.

Morgan argued that even the most ardent supporters for immigration caps or limits to free movement aren’t in favour of including students in any crackdown.

“People realise that students are in a group of their own,” she added, describing the sector as a key British export.

Morgan said she represented a “large, international-facing university in Loughborough” and said students were part of the “global Britain” brand.

Even if UK Prime Minister Theresa May insists on keeping the system, she may face defeat when an amendment to the immigration bill is tabled in spring.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd is said to fear that there are just enough potential Tory rebels to defeat the bill in Parliament. According to the Daily Mail, Rudd had warned May that growing support to take international students out of the immigration figures when the Immigration Bill is brought forward this year.

A government source said: “It is inevitable that someone will bring forward an amendment on this, and it is very difficult to see how we could defeat it.”

A spokesman said May’s position has not changed, arguing that students still fall under the international definition of a migrant, ie. someone who arrives and stays in the UK for more than 12 months.

Other potential rebels include the Scottish Tories, the health select committee chair, Sarah Wollaston as well as MPs Johnny Mercer, Anna Soubry and Stephen Hammond.

Taking students out of immigration figures would be in the national interest, according to Wollaston. In a post-Brexit UK, this move would signify that the UK is open to students, education and business.

Wollaston said she hoped that May would be persuaded to take action: “I strongly support and have always supported taking students out of the immigration numbers. I think it is an important principle and sends a clear message that Britain wants to welcome students and they are a key part of our culture.”

East Renfrewshire’s Conservative MP Paul Masterton said he and colleagues were lobbying the Home Office over the issue.

“I have always held the view that students should not be included in the target. We need to clearly signal we are open to the brightest and best talent from across the globe coming here to study,” he said.

“International students take home positive relationships and experiences of the UK which are of huge benefit – we should be celebrating and encouraging that.”

The immigration target has been a commitment by the Conservative party since they came into power in 2010. The target of cutting net migration down to less than 100,000 could be reached if students were included in the figures.

Not everyone in May’s government is on board with including international students in the immigration target. Cabinet ministers Philip Hammond and Boris Johnson have spoken publicly students should not be included in the figures.

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