London: An Indian diaspora-led students’ organisation on Friday urged the UK government to remove international students from the country’s overall immigration statistics amid unconfirmed reports that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak may be considering a crackdown on foreigners granted study visas.
According to some UK media reports, Sunak is mulling a crackdown on foreign students bringing dependents and studying so-called low-quality degrees at mediocre UK universities after the country’s net migration figures hit record levels.
Downing Street has indicated that “all options” to bring overall migrant numbers down are on the table. The National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU) UK, which campaigns for streamlined provisions for Indian students studying in the UK, said any move to arbitrarily rank universities would prove counterproductive in the long run.
“Students who are in the UK temporarily, should not be counted as migrants,” said NISAU UK Chair Sanam Arora.
“International students, of which Indians are the biggest cohort, bring a net revenue of GBP 30 billion into the British economy and go back as friends of the UK, furthering ties of trade, culture, and diplomacy. The UK’s higher education sector is one of our largest exports to the world, and we are hopeful that the government will ensure that there is no arbitrary definition of what counts as a ‘top’ university,” she said.
The group called for a “creative and innovative policy solution” that addresses the UK’s skills and labour shortages through its international graduates. The Universities UK International (UUKi), which represents over 140 UK universities, also sounded a note of caution over any policy moves to cut down international student numbers as a potential act of self-harm and pile on additional financial pressures on universities.
“Cutting international student numbers would run directly counter to the UK government’s strategy to welcome more students from around the world,” said UUKi Chief Executive Vivienne Stern.
“International students make an enormous cultural and financial contribution to the UK. They help make our campuses and cities the vibrant, thought-provoking places they are known for being. They sustain jobs in towns and cities up and down the country,” she said.
“Beyond this, the financial contribution they make has been very significant for UK universities. Limiting international students would be an act of self-harm that would damage many parts of the UK,” she added.
The concerns arise in the wake of the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures this week revealing net migration to the UK rose from 173,000 in the year to June 2021, to 504,000 in the year to June 2022 – an increase of 331,000 post-Brexit.
International students were a large contributory factor to this spike, with Indians overtaking Chinese students as the largest cohort of student visas for the first time.The Conservative Party-led UK government has a manifesto commitment to reduce migration “overall”, something reiterated in recent weeks and months by UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman.
She has previously expressed worries about foreign students bringing in dependent family members who “piggyback” on a student visa and is believed to be looking at proposals to tackle the issue.