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UK: government rejects student visa claims

The UK government has once again rejected claims that restricting student visas will harm UK universities, stunt cultural growth and cost the economy billions of pounds a year.

It was responding to a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday from 70 university heads, urging a review of the government’s approach to international students – namely by re-categorizing them as temporary not permanent migrants and removing them from net migration figures.

However, Immigration Minister Damian Green insisted students coming to the UK for more than a year were “not visitors” and therefore should be included in the net migration tally.

“This is an ongoing campaign and we will continue to argue the case”

“The independent Office for National Statistics is responsible for producing net migration statistics according to the internationally agreed definition of a migrant which is someone entering the country for more than a year,” he argued.

“Public confidence in statistics will not be enhanced by revising the way the net migration numbers are presented by removing students.”

Universities fear the government’s curb on student visas will alienate genuine international students, pushing them towards competitors such as the US and Australia which are working to enhance student migration. Green last week said UK student visa issuance fell 62% in the first quarter of 2012 because of the reforms.

“There is no limit on the number of genuine students who can come to the UK”

However, he claimed: “There is no limit on the number of genuine students who can come to the UK and our reforms are not stopping them. But we are determined to prevent the abuse of student visas as part of our plans to get net migration down to the tens of thousands.”

In the letter, the signatories say that “the number of individuals considering a university education abroad is growing rapidly. In this market for talent – and export income – the UK performs exceptionally well, with 9.9% of the total market share in 2009, and export earnings of £7.9 billion.”

They claim that forecast earnings from international education exports could double by 2025.

“We’re not surprised by the government’s response,” a Universities UKspokesperson told The PIE News. “This is an ongoing campaign and we will continue to argue the case. The facts speak for themselves.”

“We’re not surprised by the government’s response”

The letter has bolstered a recent wave of media attention on the issue, with The Daily Telegraph running a front page article on Wednesday and University UK’s directer, Nicola Dandridge, appearing on flagship BBC news show The Today Programme.

Signatories to the letter include Conservative minister Baroness Bottomley, writer and broadcaster Lord Bragg, former Director-General of the CBI, Sir Richard Lambert, and former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Menzies Campbell MP.

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