Amber Rudd, the home secretary, is leading a Cabinet push for international students to be removed from the government’s target to reduce net migration, according to reports.
Theresa May, in her own time as home secretary and now as prime minister, has long been opposed to taking foreign students out of immigration targets, despite pressure to change the policy from her own ministers.
But according to the Financial Times, Ms Rudd is now leading a new Cabinet push to take students out of the count, in order to avoid the government suffering a defeat next year when the House of Commons considers a bill to set up a post-Brexit immigration regime.
She also hopes that the prime minister will be persuaded to shift her position because of the success of reform designed to stop the abuse of student visas and enacted when Ms May was home secretary, the newspaper added.
The home secretary has support from colleagues including chancellor Philip Hammond, foreign secretary Boris Johnson and business secretary Greg Clark, the Financial Times said.
In April, the government rejected a Lords amendment to the Higher Education and Research Bill calling for students to be removed from the target to reduce net migration.
Sarah Stevens, head of policy at the Russell Group, said that the government should “look at closely” the option of removing students from the net migration target, adding that universities “need an immigration system that allows universities to continue to recruit the best students from around the world”.
“International students help create a diverse learning environment that benefits home students. The bonds international students make at university help boost UK soft power across the globe and they make a significant economic contribution too,” she said.
“Every seven international students who start an undergraduate degree at a Russell Group university generate £1 million in economic impact for the UK. They help support the delivery of high-quality teaching in our universities and create jobs across the economy.”