In a report released today, the Home Affairs Committee argues that this would allow the government to achieve its aim of reducing net migration to below 100,000 by 2015 without damaging the economy.
The work of the UK Border Agency (December 2011-March 2012) says that this migration target cannot be hit “without drastically reducing the number of people who come to study in Britain”.
“It is likely that this would damage a strong sector of our economy and also the cultural diversity of our universities,” it says.
The report says that it is “important” that the UK “does not fall behind its international competitors in this market” by making itself less attractive to students.
In May, 68 vice-chancellors, governors and university presidents wrote a letter to the government urging it to reclassify students so they are not caught out by migration targets.
On 8 July The Sunday Times reported that the prime minister, David Cameron, was considering such a change.
However on 11 July Damian Green, the immigration minister, told the committee that it would be a “denial of reality” not to count students in the same figures as those coming to Britain for other reasons, such as to work.
The committee’s report also recommends that face-to-face interviews become compulsory for all foreign students “where it is practical and appropriate to do so”.
“This will uphold public confidence in the immigration system and help to counter damaging government rhetoric which conflates a reduction in the number of student visas with eliminating fraud in the system,” the report says.
It also recommends that what it calls “bogus colleges” should be subject to “unannounced, robust and thorough” inspections.
In June, the Home Office revealed to the committee that in pilot interviews border staff had judged around a third of student visa applicants not to be genuine.