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The UK immigration debate: what about international students?

A new ICM poll - International Students and the UK Immigration Debate - published on 25 August by Universities UK and think-tank British Future, finds that the Brits are against treating international students as immigrants and that 59% of the public are opposed to cutting their numbers in the future. The figures are even higher (66%) among the conservatives, who equally oppose the idea. Only 22% think that international students should be counted as the rest of immigrants. The report shows that the Brits recognise the economic and academic benefits of having international students in the country as 60% say that oversees students bring money in their local economy and 61% think that the higher fees paid by international students enable British universities to have high-quality facilities and teaching. According to the report, a large number of the respondents do not actually regard international students as immigrants, and they are in favour of exempting overseas students from the government’s plan to tackle net immigration.

What should happen with international students after graduation? 75% of the public think that they should be allowed to live and work in the country – at least for a period time. This tentative period varies from 2 years (16%) to 2-5 years (11%) and more than 5 years (6%). There are only 13% of those totally against international graduates staying in Britain.

A probe before the 2015 general election, when the issue of immigration will be high up on the agenda, this report contains some recommendations to the government, such as excluding international students from net migration targets; developing an international student growth strategy and promoting British higher education through more international activities; or, provide more opportunities for qualified international students to stay and work in the country after graduation. 

According to Steve Ballinger, Director of Communications for think-tank British Future: “Trying to get net migration down by targeting international student numbers would be unpopular and would fail to address the public’s anxieties about immigration. Instead it would cost Britain the widely-recognised benefits that those students bring, both to local economies and to our world-class universities.”

ICM Study (PDF)