- Reuters/Eddie Keogh
LONDON – The Home Office has commissioned a report into the impact of international students in the UK after exit checks found that immigration figures are far lower than previously thought.
New border checks introduced last year found that almost all international students left the UK after finishing their studies, the government will announce on Thursday.
97% of international students left the UK after graduating, the Telegraph newspaper reported, which could mean a complete change in how immigration statistics are calculated.
It was previously suspected that tens of thousands were staying in the country illegally after completing their courses.
The new immigration figures are based on passenger surveys at airports which were implemented last year.
Whitehall officials have suggested overall net migration could be reduced by tens of thousands once the exit of international students has been taken into account, reducing the current 248,000 figure.
A government source told the Telegraph: “Ministers have asked the Office for National Statistics to review the net migration figures in the wake of this new data. It means that the overall net migration figure could be significantly lower than previously thought.”
On Thursday the government will commission its independent advisers on immigration to assess the social and economic impact of foreign students in the UK.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd said: “There is no limit to the number of genuine international students who can come to the UK to study and the fact that we remain the second most popular global destination for those seeking higher education is something to be proud of.”
The UK is the second most popular destination for international students, and last year there was a 6% increase in visa applications for the elite Russell Group universities.
Immigration minister Brandon Lewis said: “We have always been clear that our commitment to reducing net migration to sustainable levels does not detract from our determination to attract international students from around the world.”
The Liberal Democrat’s shadow home secretary Ed Davey said: “Higher education is one of Britain’s most successful export industries. We must not let it be destroyed by the Conservatives’ short-sighted obsession with immigration targets.”