UK firms will be “bitterly disappointed” that the government’s official advisory body on migration has not backed removing overseas students from official migration statistics, a leading business group has said. The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) also called in Theresa May’s government to axe its “arbitrary” target of reducing net migration to below 100,000.
The plea came in response to a long-awaited report by the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) which recommended making it easier for some foreign students to work in the UK after they finish their studies.
But the MAC stopped short of recommending post-study work visas and said overseas students should continue to be included in the governments overall net migration target figures.
Responding to the report, the BCC said international students benefit the UK economy, “not only through their direct spending power, but also through their skills, languages and cultural awareness”.
“At a time when three-quarters of firms are struggling to fill job vacancies, it makes sense to attract and harness the talent of international students,” the BCC said.
“Its one thing to control migration, but quite another to use arbitrary mechanisms that deny businesses, universities and public sector employers the people they need to address immediate skills gaps.
“The government should also restore a post-a study work visa that allows British universities and companies to benefit from the energy of some of the people they have trained.
“Now more than ever, the UK should be striving to attract the brightest talent from around the world, and our future immigration policy should reflect that instead of a fixation with targets.”
Theresa May has resisted calls to exclude students from the governments 100,000 net migration target.
But business and universities groups argue that to include students makes little economic sense to the UK.
The average non-EEA student provides a net fiscal benefit to the UK of around £5,000 per year compared to the average resident, while official data shows that fewer than 5,000 foreign students stay in the country after their visa expires.
Dame Janet Beer, of Universities UK said she was disappointed by the MACs recommendations.
“We agree that the government and the sector should continue to work together to grow the number of international students, but growth will only be possible if we have an immigration system that encourages talented international students to choose the UK.”
Prof Beer adds: “While the UK continues to count international students as long-term migrants in its net migration target, there is a continued pressure to reduce their numbers. This adds to the perception that they are not welcome here.”
The number of international students coming to the UK has recently flatlined, allowing other countries, notably Australia, to gain ground.