There is an argument for taking students out of the immigration figures. (They aren’t really migrants.) And there is an argument for keeping them there. (They are – and a lot overstay, anyway.) This site is on the side of keeping them in. In any event, the Office for National Statistics, which follows international norms and not ministerial dikat, might not agree to change.
But whatever your view, consider the political context. Immigration is at a record high. The Government has announced that it will accept 20,000 Syrian refugees. Is this really the right time to try to take students, when net student immigration appears to be about 150,000 a year – some half of the total figure – out of the statistics, thus stoking claims of “fiddling the figures”?
Theresa May is absolutely right to believe not – and, of course, there is no mandate for it in the Conservative Manifesto of only four months ago. But you can almost hear the case made by Ministers now – George Osborne, Philip Hammond and Sajid Javid, according to the Times’s report. Do it now while Labour is in chaos! Act now while there’s no opposition!
This is a theme to watch out for if, as expected, Jeremy Corbyn wins the Labour leadership tomorrow. Perhaps if the powers-that-be think such action is a flyer, they could try it on policies that were in the manifesto rather than those that weren’t – such as human rights reform and English votes on English laws. At any rate, we hope the Prime Minister backs up his Home Secretary.