Sajid Javid urged to change UK overseas student policy ‘urgently’

Review of international students in net migration target must be priority of home secretary’s ‘fresh look’ at immigration policy, say sector leaders

June 4, 2018
Sajid Javid speaking at podium

The UK higher education sector has welcomed the home secretary’s promise of a “fresh look” at the country's immigration policy, but insisted that the inclusion of overseas students in net migration figures must be reviewed as a “priority”.

Home secretary Sajid Javid said that he would “like to look at again” the policy that includes international students within the government’s drive to reduce net migration into the UK, admitting that he did “empathise” with the view that it did not give a welcoming impression, during an interview with the BBC on 3 June.

He added that, while overseas students who eventually leave the UK should have no long-term impact on net migration, “there is a perception problem around this”.

He also said he would “think more carefully” about the cap on the number of skilled workers from outside the European Union who are given visas.

"It is something that I'm taking a fresh look at. I know a number of my colleagues certainly want me to take a look at this, and that's exactly what I'm doing,” he said.

However, Mr Javid said that addressing the issue of the Windrush scandal, which led to former home secretary Amber Rudd’s resignation in April, would be his top priority.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, which represents more than 110,000 academics and university staff, said it was “encouraging” that Mr Javid “appears to recognise how unwelcoming our current policy is”.

"However, we need that policy looked at again as a priority," she said. “Our universities’ international student recruitment is a huge success story because overseas students are attracted by the quality of higher education available. International students make an enormous contribution to UK higher education both educationally and economically.

“Sajid Javid should take the lead on this and support universities by committing to remove international students from the net migration target altogether.”

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said it was “inevitable that eventually sanity will prevail” and overseas students will be taken out of the government’s net migration target, adding that it is “likely” that the MAC [Migration Advisory Committee] review will be the vehicle that allows this to happen”. The review, which will look at the economic and social impact of overseas students in the UK, is scheduled to report in September.

“This is because the evidence that we and others have submitted proves there is only one sensible way ahead. It will be embarrassing for the government politically when the change comes, but voters don’t mind U-turns when the end result is better policy,” he said.

Universities UK also welcomed Mr Javid’s comments on international students.

“Removing students from the net migration target would be a positive policy change as part of a package of measures to signal that the UK is a welcoming destination for international students. We welcome the home secretary’s commitment to review this issue,” a spokesman said.

Hollie Chandler, senior policy analyst at the Russell Group, added that while “there is no limit on the number of international students who can come to the UK, including them in the target is unhelpful and sends the wrong message to prospective students abroad”.

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