The report recommends keeping foreign students in the net migration figures and calls for the government to make it easier for foreign students to access work after they have completed their degree.
Last week the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), an independent committee which provides the British government advice immigration, published a report calling to relax regulations on foreign students.
The report recommended the following: that the UK maintain its policy of not capping the number of study visas issued; for an extension of the post-study leave period to 6 months for Master students and 12 months for PhD students; and for international students who leave the UK after completing their studies to be able to switch their student visas to a Tier 2 work visa for up to two years after course completion.
However the report also advised against the removal of foreign students from net migration numbers. According to the report, 750,000 foreign students come to the UK each year to study at university, further education, private school and short English language courses.
Professor Manning, chairman of MAC, has claimed that removing international students from the net migration data would make little difference to the total net migration numbers and there is no “accurate and simple way that it could be done”. Prime Minister Theresa May has also repeatedly rejected this idea, as it would give the impression that the government was trying to manipulate data in order to meet its immigration targets.
Universities UK expressed their disappointment of MAC’s recommendations. The president of Universities UK, Janet Beer, said: “While the UK continues to count international students as long-term migrants in its net migration target, there is a continued pressure to reduce their numbers. This adds to the perception that they are not welcome here.”
MAC also advised against Universities UK’s proposal to reintroduce a post-study work visa, which would allow international students to live and work in the country for a further 2 years after graduation.
The report encourages the government to work with the higher education sector to increase the number of international students, but The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) claims that the policies suggested are not sufficient. The BCC released a statement saying that MAC has made the “wrong decision” by keeping students in the statistics and are concerned that the UK will not remain attractive to international students if they keep these “arbitrary mechanisms that deny businesses, universities and public sector employers the people they need to address immediate skills gaps.”
The report recognised the advantages of increasing foreign students, who contribute £26 billion the UK’s economy. Upon the release of the report, Prof Manning said international students bring “clear benefits” to the UK and acknowledges that “graduates are an important source of skilled workers for the UK economy and boost the UK’s soft power.” But there are concerns that the policies suggested are not enough to keep up with the growing competition from the United States, Australia and Canada for international students.
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, has called the report “woefully disappointing” as it “suggests the government is not truly committed to an increase in international student numbers and it does so at the very moment when our key competitors are extending their market share fast”.