A UK Home Office report seen by the BBC has recommended that international students in the UK should continue to be classified as immigrants, meaning the number of student visas issued by the UK will effectively be capped as the British government has set a goal of reducing net immigration to the “tens of thousands.
MillionPlus body and Universities UK – members of the association of Modern Universities – have, however, both campaigned to exclude students from being classified as immigrants as they say that foreign students help boost the quality of research.
According to the report, 750,000 international students currently arrive in the UK every year. British universities want students to have the right to work in the UK for two years after their graduation. They argue that an annual estimated amount of €30 billion in contributions to the British economy could instead be diverted to Canada, Australia and the United States if a work-study visa regime is not implemented for foreign students in the UK.
Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly declined to consider changing the operational definition of migrants to exclude students. As Home Office Minister for the David Cameron government, May reduced the number of student visas granted in order to deliver on the government’s pledge to cut the UK’s immigration numbers.
Approximately 127,000 EU students arrived in the UK in 2016. Most British universities have since witnessed a double-digit drop in EU applications as a result of the Brexit vote two years ago, which will see the UK quit the European Union in March of next year.
In a poll conducted by Nature Magazine prior to the June 2016 Brexit referendum, 83% of the UK’s scientists wanted Britain to remain in the EU.