Strict Visa Requirements Send Wrong Message to Students

From Lord Taverne,

Sir, The UK government, unlike the US, Australia and New Zealand, counts student migrants as immigrants for statistical purposes. This makes no sense.

According to Home Office figures, students coming to the UK are worth £13bn a year to the economy. Their fees subsidise UK students and contribute to the excellent research and development facilities at UK universities. Foreign students add to the attractions of British university life and make our universities one of our most successful export markets. Furthermore, graduates who stay provide skills much valued by British companies and fill a big gap in the National Health Service, which employs 40,000 foreign-born doctors and 58,000 foreign-born nurses. Those who return to their homeland, the vast majority, mostly prove excellent ambassadors for the services Britain has to offer.

There were abuses to avoid entry controls, which the government has dealt with. However, present strict visa requirements are sending the wrong message. It seems that the projected rise in student numbers has gone into reverse and that the UK has become a less attractive destination for foreign students. In the year to December 2012 there were 209,804 visas issued for the purpose of study, a fall of 20 per cent compared with the previous year.

If students were excluded from immigration statistics, the government’s immigration target would easily be met. There would be less public concern and student visa requirements could be relaxed to restore the UK’s attractions. Surely to follow the example of the US, Australia and New Zealand is a no brainer.

Dick Taverne, House of Lords

 – FT