15 May 2012

Think-tank accuses Government of 'gaming' UK immigration figures

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A report by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) think-tank has claimed that the Government is 'gaming' UK immigration figures by including student numbers to make it appear as though immigration rates are falling.

UK immigration

The IPPR has accused the Government of 'gaming' UK immigration figures to make a costly drop in international student numbers appear a politicial success.

The coalition Government has repeatedly stated their intention to cut net UK immigration figures from current rates of approximately 240,000 to the 'tens of thousands' by the next election.

As part of these efforts, UK visa regulations have been tightened, student visa rules have become much stricter, overseas workers have been reclassified as prospective migrants and the right of appeal for rejected visa applicants has been removed.

However, critics have labelled the Government's efforts as heavy handed and now the IPPR has accused the Government of including student figures which make their efforts appear to have had a more substantial effect.

The UK, along with the US, Canada and Australia, is a world leader in the international education market yet unlike its competitors is the only country to classify international students as long-term migrants as opposed to 'non-immigrant' admissions.

The IPPR claims this means that a drop in student numbers due to tighter regulations intended to cut net migration can be portrayed as a political success, when in actual fact the harsher entrance requirements are persuading international students to study elsewhere at a cost of between £4 and 6 billion a year.

'The decisive reason the why the UK government is sticking with the current method of measuring student migration flows is not a genuine concern with long-term net migration but a desire to 'game' its own net migration target by banking large apparent reductions in 2013 and 2014 which reflect the limitations of the current method of measurement rather than real change in long-term net migration trends,' reads the report.

The IPPR argues that only 15% of overseas students remain in Britain once their studies have concluded and as such, student figures should be removed from net migration figures altogether.

'The government needs to take international students out of the immigration 'numbers game', which is damaging our universities and colleges, our economy and our international standing,' concludes the report.

Immigration Minister Damian Green has responded to the report's findings by insisting that as 13% of foreign nationals granted the right to settle in the UK in 2009 had entered the country as students, a significant enough number of overseas students remain in the UK to classify them as migrants.

"Under longstanding international measures, students and others who come to the UK for more than a year are counted as migrants. I agree that not all students remain permanently but significant numbers do."

However, the IPPR, who have previously contended that the Government's efforts to tackle immigration are not working, contends that the Government is merely pursuing a headline accomplishment rather than long-term change.

"If the Government ignores these arguments and persists with the current method of measuring students for the purposes of meetings its net migration target in 2015, and therefore continues to regard a dramatic reduction in international students as an objective in its own right, it must admit that it is placing short-term political considerations above a genuine concern with long-term net migration," said IPPR Associate Director Sarah Mulley.

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