Home Affairs CommitteeSupplementary written evidence submitted by Home Office [UKBA 08b]

Letter from Damian Green MP, Minister for Immigration, to the Chair of the Committee, 28 June 2012

STUDENT VISAS

Thank you for your letter of 18 June.

Please find below the information that the Committee has requested.

Including International Students in Migration Statistics

The independent Office for National Statistics (ONS) is responsible for producing net migration statistics from the International Passenger Survey (IPS) which it runs. In line with the internationally agreed (UN) definition, which has been in place since 1991, these statistics define a migrant as someone changing their normal place of residence for more than a year. All our major competitors—including the US, Australia and Canada—include students in their net migration figures, even if their categorisation of them may vary slightly.

As I set out to the BIS Select Committee this week, students coming for over a year are migrants, not visitors. During their stay they affect the local economy, communities, public services and infrastructure and are in effect part of the resident population.

We know that many stay for longer periods: in recent years over 100,000 have been extending their visas and 40,000 have been staying in the Post Study Work route every year, despite many having unskilled employment, or no employment at all. Home Office research shows 20% of those who arrived in 2004 were still in the UK five years later. The Government does not therefore consider it appropriate to deviate from the internationally agreed definition of a migrant and believes that doing so could damage public confidence in the statistics.

Progress on the Implementation of a New Data Collection System for Foreign Students Leaving the Country

In the UK, student immigration is disaggregated in the ONS data so it is already possible to see students’ contribution compared with the work and family routes among those intending to stay for a year or more.

As you know, currently it is not possible to accurately identify in the IPS those students who then depart, but ONS has now refined the survey to get better data on student migration. From the start of this year, it has asked an additional question to better identify students leaving the UK. The first estimates from this change will be published in August 2013.

In addition, the Government has committed to re- introducing exit checks by 2015. The e-Borders system already allows the electronic checking of more than 60% of all departures from the UK, including 100% of all non-EU aviation routes.

Inspections of Tier 4 Sponsors

There have been no changes to the UK Border Agency’s arrangements for inspecting Tier 4 sponsors. All sponsors are visited following their initial application, and further checks may be made once a sponsor has been licensed to ensure it continues to comply with sponsor licence requirements. These checks may be prearranged or unannounced. Where the Agency has concerns about the compliance of a sponsor it will make an unannounced visit. Between March 2011 and April 2012 the UK Border Agency conducted 1304 Tier 4 visits, 46% of which were unannounced.

However, not all visits are to investigate suspected non-compliance, and around half are announced in advance. Undertaking a full audit of an institution, for example, involves the production of hundreds of student files and interviews with a considerable number of students and staff from across a number of school/faculties who will need to be available when UK Border Agency officers visit. Other visits may be undertaken at a sponsor’s request, for example to help review a new system or to resolve a system query.

Reductions in International Students

In the year to March 2012, the number of Tier 4 visas issued fell by 57,000 for main applicants and 13,000 for dependants compared with the previous year. In the same period the Government’s student visa reforms, coupled with tougher compliance action by the UK Border Agency, have seen over 500 private colleges lose their right to bring students to the UK. The latest UCAS figures on non-EU university student applications for the academic year of 2012 show a rise of 10%, though we will have a more complete picture of the intake for the current academic year when the Higher Education Statistics Authority releases its statistics in February. This indicates the reductions are having most impact on the private further and higher education colleges and the English language sectors, where abuse was most prevalent.

Cost to the Economy

Whilst the published impact assessment on the policy changes relating to non-EEA Tier 4 students and the Post-Study Work Route estimated a net cost to the economy of £2.44 billion over four years (total cost of £3.56 billion minus a total saving of £1.12 billion) this used the assumptions previously applied to estimate the impact of lower population on the overall product of the economy.

In light of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) report, published in January 2012, which revealed a number of weaknesses in the methodology and recommended that migration policy impact assessments should focus on the welfare of UK residents, the government intends to revise the impact assessment relating to non-EEA Tier 4 students and the Post-Study Work Route. As per the MAC’s recommendation lost migrant wages will not be included in the net cost to the economy, which could remove a cost of £3.2 billion from our assumptions. This will reduce any estimated net impact considerably. In addition, the MAC recommended there should be greater emphasis on the non-monetised impacts of migration, for example dynamic effects on the labour market and the economy. The changes to the estimated costs and benefits of the proposals will be set out in the revised impact assessment when it is published in the autumn.

Damian Green MP
Minister for Immigration

28 June 2012

Prepared 20th July 2012