Removing students from the net migration statistics would be wrong in principle and impossible in practice.
It is wrong in principle to remove over half of the recorded inflow. There is no difference between a worker and student if they are both here for several years, as the Minister for Immigration himself pointed out last week.
Students are not by any means all “temporary” migrants as some claim. They can settle by switching into work or marriage and 15% are believed to do so.
In practical terms, to take students out of the net migration would require a reasonably reliable estimate of student inflows and outflows so that the difference between these two flows could be subtracted from the net migration figures. However, this cannot be done with the statistics currently available.
There are three ways in which the inflow is measured. None of them can distinguish between those coming to universities and those coming to further education colleges of various kinds.
It would be logical to take the figures from the International Passenger Survey since these are used to calculate the wider net migration figures. However, they provide no estimate of student outflows. The reason is that passengers departing for more than one year are asked for their purpose in leaving but they are not asked why they came to the UK in the first place. This means that a passenger who came as a student and is returning home to find work is recorded as a worker, not a student. Put another way, the system that has been in place for many years has not distinguished between departing workers and departing students.
This weakness was pointed out by Migration Watch several years ago. As a result, the survey will make the necessary distinction with effect from the present calendar year. However, those first results, due in May 2013 will not provide reliable evidence for the student outflow for a number of years to come. The reason for this is that those students leaving this year could have arrived at any time in recent years so one year’s outflow could be misleading. Not until there are results available for several years will it be possible to make a useful estimate of student net migration.
The three ways in which the inflow is measured are as follows:
a) Visas issued
The number of visas issued (under Tier 4 of the Points Based System) is known but may overstate the inflow as not all those granted a visa will actually come to the UK.
b) Student arrivals
The numbers recorded on arrival to the UK. There are no comparable figures for departure because the e-borders system is not in full operation.
c) International Passenger Survey (IPS)
This is a voluntary survey of a small number of arrivals and departures. Those who say that they are coming to study for more than a year are recorded as students in the inflows. This is the figure used in the net migration calculation.