Students could be removed from the net migration target shortly after the general election even if a Tory-led government is elected, a leading parliamentarian has suggested.
Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration, believes that there is now a consensus among MPs that students should be excluded from official migration figures.
The Home Office has repeatedly resisted calls to change the policy, which many believe has led to increased red tape, tighter restrictions on student visas, and the end of post-study visas in an effort to limit overseas recruitment.
Ministers have been reluctant to review the policy – which Universities UK opposes – saying they would have been accused of “fiddling the figures” on the Conservative Party manifesto pledge to reduce annual net migration to below 100,000 by 2015.
However, Mr Blomfield thinks that the mood towards the policy has softened among Tory MPs, while Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the UK Independence Party also support a change. “We’ve won the argument over this Parliament, but not yet changed the policy,” he said.
An “unprecedented” five select committee reports calling for the removal of students from the net migration target “reflects the huge support across all parties” for a change, he added, saying: “A Labour-led government will work quickly to do that, but I hope whoever is in power will see a new Parliament as an opportunity for a fresh start.”
Among the senior Tory MPs who are said to back a change is Jo Johnson, head of the Downing Street Policy Unit and brother of the London mayor, Boris Johnson.
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said he “suspects there is a lively debate behind closed doors” within the Tory party on the issue.
“Now is a great opportunity for the Conservatives to come up with a more rational way of judging success on migration,” he said, adding that Ukip’s support for a review means that “no one can outflank them from the right” on the issue.