Monday, 6 September 2010

Unsustainable Students?

No, this isn't going to be a discussion of how students get into massive debt (definitely not sustainable) or use lots of energy (in fact they tend to be frugal, but not universities themselves).

I will be looking at Immigration Minister Damian Green's announcement that student immigration is "unsustainable". Yes the same Mr Green who was arrested in 2008, resulting in a row over the use of arrest warrants in Parliament, though this is of no consequence here. At the same time the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has claimed that a graduate tax, proposed by the coalition, would cause graduates to leave the country.

The Home Office research which has prompted this claim is "The Migrant Journey" (or more precisely Research Report 43), it presents the initial findings of a study "on the behaviour of migrants granted leave to enter the UK in 2004 and those granted settlement in 2009." It is set up (see Context) with the almost explicit aim of supporting the cap on immigration required by the Conservatives and included in the coalition agreement.

So, I wondered, what's all this fuss about students? They come to study, and then go home. In fact the reported and highlighted numbers seem to disprove this assumption, the numbers picked out by the government press release support the government's view point (shock, horror).

The oft repeated data states that the largest group entering the UK are on student visas (185,600 people, 41% of total applicants) and that 21% of these students are still here after 5 years (38976 people). This ignores the other findings of the data;
  • A full 63% of family visa entrants remain the UK for 5 years (39942 people still resident) - more than from student visas.
  • 55% of family visa entrants gain settlement rights after 5 years (compared to 3% of student visa entrants)
  • 40% of the largest group of work visa entrants (skilled workers) are still resident after 5 years (42352 people still resident) - also more than from student visas
  • And of those in that group of work visa entrants almost 30% gain settlement rights
  • There are also 94,540 entrants on other (non-skilled) work visas of whom 11% remain and 3% gain settlement
  • Less than 1% of those gaining settlement are going straight from study (the majority of students gaining settlement go via work (8% of total settlers) or family (4%) visas)
  • Of those students remaining after 5 years the largest group are on skilled worker visas
So, student visa applicants aren't the largest remaining group, the majority of all groups other than families leave within 5 years (the majority of student visa applicants leave within 3 years).

To me this looks like some major misreporting by the Home Office and by the BBC. If Mr Green wants to complain about immigration he should be complaining about the largest group who stay, not those who come, spend their money supporting British universities, and either leave or get a new, different visa.

Disclaimer: I think that immigration is a good thing and support a freer border policy such as that campaigned for by the NoBorders Network.

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