An early day motion, submitted by Labour’s Paul Blomfield with the support of Liberal Democrat Sir Andrew Stunell and Conservative Mark Field, has so far won the backing of 34 MPs.
It calls on the government to remove university students from “any target to reduce net migration”, and expresses concern about the “dramatic drop” in the number of learners enrolling at higher education institutions from some countries.
The public does not generally view international students as migrants and does not wish to see their number reduced, the motion claims.
Among the MPs who have backed it to date are three key House of Commons select committee chairs – Keith Vaz, of home affairs, Adrian Bailey, of business, innovation and skills, and Andrew Miller, of science and technology.
Mr Blomfield, who chairs all party-parliamentary groups on students and migration, said that international students were “vital” to the UK.
“Five parliamentary select committees have urged the government to stop attacking students in its immigration policy and handing the advantage to our international competitors,” Mr Blomfield said. “I hope this cross-party initiative will lead to change.”
Many universities claim that inclusion of students in the net migration target hampers their ability to recruit overseas. There has been a particularly pronounced slump in the number of students enrolling from India.
Mr Field said there was “broad public consensus” that international students were good for Britain.
“International students are a vital component of our higher education sector and should be embraced accordingly,” he said.
The initiative has also been backed by the Institute of Directors and Universities UK.
“While international students in the UK continue to be caught up in efforts to bear down on immigration, it will feed the perception internationally that the UK is closed for business and does not welcome students,” said Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of UUK.