Home Office figures show that far fewer students overstay their visas than previously thought. But shouldn't we be encouraging talented young people to remain in the UK?by Steve Bloomfield / August 24, 2017 / Leave a comment
Are Home Office policies discouraging talented graduates from remaining in the UK? Photo: PA Another of the myths spread by anti-immigration campaigners has been torn apart: international students are not overstaying their visas, as Theresa May claimed in 2015. In a speech to Conservative Party conference, the then Home Secretary said she didn’t care what “lobbyists” were saying. “The fact is,” she said, “too many students are not returning home as soon as their visas run out.” The fact is, she was wrong. New figures released by the Home Office reveal that of the 181,024 students granted study visas, 176,407 of them—that’s 97.4 per cent—had left the UK by the time their visa had expired. Given that the government had previously claimed as many as 100,000 international students had overstayed their visa this is something of a victory for those hoping for a fact-based debate on immigration. But we should be in no doubt: this is a disaster for British society and the country’s economy. Those 176,407 people had come to Britain to study and improve their prospects. They are the highly-skilled, the best and the brightest. They chose Britain above America, Australia and a host of European Union nations with outstanding universities. Many of them will have put down roots here, made friends, perhaps found partners and become members of their local community. Why, then, once they have completed their studies, and acquired new skills, do we want them to leave? Rather than encouraging them to stay, we are desperate to show them the door. Just think of what we’re losing. They are doctors who will now practice in Sydney, scientists who will now make new discoveries in Munich, entrepreneurs who will start-up in Amsterdam. They are tax-paying members of a local community who in 10 years’ time will be a school governor in Lyon not Liverpool, coach the under-13 netball team in Warsaw not Wigan, water the plants of a next-door neighbour in Baltimore not Birmingham. The government’s eagerness for international graduates to leave is the natural conclusion to an immigration policy that sees students from overseas as something to be curtailed rather than encouraged. As the government cannot prevent workers from elsewhere in the EU coming to the UK, they have sought to crack down on other groups of migrants. International students have been targeted, much to the anger of university chiefs. The migration figures released this morning by the Office of National Statistics reflects the “success’ of this campaign: long-term immigration for study fell by around a fifth (27,000) to 139,000. The Home Office claims it is not trying to limit the number of international students. “There is no limit on the number of genuine international students who can come to the UK to study,” says Amber Rudd. Ms Rudd will be furious when she discovers that her own department wants to limit overall annual net migration—which includes students who stay longer than a year—to the “tens of thousands.” This problem could be solved by simply excluding students from the official migration figures. Neither Canada, Australia or the United States count students as permanent migrants—those nations understand that a student’s presence in the country is temporary. Only if students stay once they have completed their studies are they counted in the official figures. The first instinct of those nations, unlike Britain, isn’t to immediately show graduates the door. In turn, those graduates are likely to be more comfortable staying in countries where they haven’t been given the impression that the government of their temporary home begrudges their presence. There are some signs that the Home Office might be considering a change of course. Rudd has asked the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to analyze the economic impact of international students. Couple this with her decision to ask the MAC to study the impact of EU migration and it is possible to see a future immigration policy based on facts rather than fear. In the meantime, other nations will continue to roll out the red carpet to thousands of British-trained graduates who we have turned our back on.