Harvard Business School students cheer as their MBA degrees are conferred during commencement ceremonies at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photographer: Neal Hamberg / Bloomberg News)

U.K. Told to Keep Foreign Students in Net Immigration Figures

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. should keep students in its net immigration figures, the government’s adviser on the issue said, throwing its support behind Prime Minister Theresa May’s stance.

However, Britain should make it easier for foreign students to stay on after they’ve completed their studies because they bring “clear benefits” to the economy, the Migration Advisory Committee said in a report Tuesday. About 750,000 foreign students come to the U.K. each year, most of them on short stays to learn English, according to the report, which put the export value of the U.K. education sector at about 17.6 billion pounds ($23 billion).

The MAC recommendations would make it harder for the government to bring down annual net immigration to the “tens of thousands” target it’s stood by since 2010, despite never coming close to meeting it. The most recent data show net immigration at 271,000 people in the 12 months through March.

“International students bring clear benefits to the whole of the U.K.,” MAC Chairman Alan Manning said in a statement. “Graduates are an important source of skilled workers for the U.K. economy and boost the U.K.’s soft power.”

Senior Conservatives including Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson and Treasury Select Committee Chairman Nicky Morgan have suggested students should be dropped from the target because they distort the numbers. But May has stood firm, saying that it would look like the government was trying to massage the data.

The then Home Secretary Amber Rudd commissioned the MAC study in August 2017 to try to resolve the debate.

The MAC recommended:

  • Permission to remain in the U.K. should be extended to 6 months for masters students, and a year for doctorate students after completion of their studies
  • International students who leave the U.K. after completing their studies should be able to switch their student visas to a tier 2 work visa for up to two years
  • U.K. should continue its policy of not capping the number of study visas issued
  • Window for applying for post-study work visas should be extended to better align with graduate recruitment practices

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