PM urged to remove overseas students from migration target

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UK border control
Image caption,
Study is the most common reason given for immigration into the UK

The chairmen of five parliamentary committees have written to David Cameron to urge him to remove overseas student numbers from migration targets.

They are asking him to "reconcile" the "tensions" between tougher restrictions and the desire for economic growth.

Net migration figures fell last year, with officials saying this was "largely due" to a drop in foreign students.

But the government says it is committed to stamping out abuses of the immigration system.

On Thursday, the House of Lords is set to debate the impact of immigration policy on UK higher education.

The coalition has pledged to restrict the level of annual net migration - the balance between the number of people who come to live in the UK for the long-term and the number who are leaving - to "tens of thousands".

'Routes closed'

Since last year, all institutions which want to sponsor non-European Union students for a visa must be accredited as "highly trusted".

Potential entrants have to speak a higher standard of English and the "post-study work route" to staying on has been closed, unless graduates have an offer of one of a list of skilled jobs.

The overall UK net migration figure fell from 242,000 to 183,000 in the year to March.

The Office for National Statistics said this was "largely due" to a decline in the number of foreign students despite an increase in the number of arrivals from China - the UK's largest overseas student market.

Opponents of the government's changes say they damage the economy by restricting the lucrative movement of students to the UK, putting universities at a disadvantage.

'Building relationships'

In their letter to Mr Cameron, the five select committee chairmen urge "further action to encourage international university students to study in the UK".

They add: "Doing so has the potential to support economic growth in the immediate and longer term, supporting jobs in university towns and increasing export earnings.

"International students who study in the UK also build relationships which last over time, laying the foundations for future business opportunities in emerging economies, and supporting our foreign policy objectives."

They also ask the prime minister to "reconcile the remaining tensions between visa policy and aspirations for growth by removing international students from the net migration target".

The signatories include three Labour MPs: Keith Vaz (Home Affairs Committee), Adrian Bailey (Business Committee) and Margaret Hodge (Public Accounts Committee). The others are cross-bench peers Lord Hannay (Europe Sub-Committee) and Lord Krebs (Science and Technology Committee).