Government refuses to budge on net migrant count

The government has rejected universities’ calls for overseas students to be withdrawn from the net migrant count, a move that may kill off hopes of securing the change in the current Parliament.

February 26, 2013

The verdict was delivered in a government response to MPs on the BIS select committee, one of five Parliamentary committees to call for overseas students not to be counted in the government’s net migration limits.

The response says: “The Home Office and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have carefully considered the recommendations of the report and the Government response is below” – suggesting that the Home Office has conclusively won out against BIS, whose ministers had been in favour of withdrawing students from the count.

Universities UK had lobbied hard for the change, which would spare universities any impact from the government’s drive to reduce net migration to the “tens of thousands” by 2015.

“All the UK’s major competitors include students in their figures for net migration,” the government response says.

It adds that the “UK will continue to comply with the international definition of net migration”, in which students are classed as migrants.

However, the government risks provoking disagreement with its claim about the UK’s major competitors including overseas students in their figures. Nicola Dandridge, the UUK chief executive, had noted the difference between the UK and its competitors on this score in her evidence to the BIS select committee.

She told MPs: “For the purpose of policy development, can we treat international students as temporary migrants, not permanent migrants? That is what all our competitors do, the US, Canada and Australia. They operate by the UN definition in terms of UN data returns, but for the purposes of policy development, to a quite stark degree they distinguish between permanent and temporary migration, and international students are always regarded as temporary migrants.”

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