The report by business membership organisation London First and accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers says that students should be classified as temporary visitors and not migrants, warning that the current inclusion of learners in migration targets gives the impression that they are unwelcome.
It calculates that the economic contribution made by international students based in the capital totals £2.8 billion per annum, made up of £1.32 billion in tuition fees, £1.36 billion in subsistence spending, and £121 million through “visitor” spending.
The report says suggestions that international students are a net drain on the economy, for example, through their use of public services such as the NHS, are wrong.
The cost of the use of public services by London’s foreign students is estimated to be £540 million each year, according to the report, leaving a net gain of £2.3 billion.
This was equivalent to an average of £34,122 per year for each of the 67,405 international students in the capital in 2013-14.
The report adds that international students support nearly 70,000 jobs in London through their spending, and that 60 per cent of these learners are more likely to do business with the UK as a result of studying here.
But the report also says that more than a third of students who responded to a survey conducted for the report found that the complexity of Britain’s immigration system had negatively affected their experience of studying in the UK.
And it adds that the vast majority of respondents found it difficult to secure work in the UK after completing their studies. An estimated 88 per cent returned home immediately after their course.
In addition to calling for students to be classed as temporary visitors, the report says that the net migration target should be abolished.
Post-study work options should also be improved, it says, potentially through an automatic option to take up an employment visa lasting for a couple of years.
Baroness Valentine, the chief executive of London First, said the UK needed to treat international students better.
“Students’ expenditure here is a modern-day export: they pay substantial fees and contribute significantly in consumer spending,” she said. “As a matter of priority, our new government should follow the lead of Australia and Canada and reclassify international students as temporary visitors, not migrants.
“It makes no sense to imply through classification and rhetoric that they are unwelcome, which is harming our universities’ abilities to sell education to talented students around the world.”