Former Universities Minister David Willetts has criticised the Home Secretary for using ‘unreliable’ figures in her quest to limit the number of overseas students issued with UK visas.
Mr Willetts said that Theresa May’s claim that 96,000 more people were coming to the UK annually on a student visa than were leaving was a “widely disputed and doubted figure” and should not be used as a basis for policy.
The Home Secretary quoted the figure as part of her defence of trying to make it harder for overseas students to study in the UK. She is thought to be considering limiting student visa entry to people who can show they have sufficient independent financial means.
The figure, which Mrs May said accounted for half of the net migration to the UK from non-EU countries, is from the International Passenger Survey (IPS). The validity of the statistic has already been called into question by the Commons Public Accounts Committee.
Mr Willetts said that the figure was based on a survey of “a few hundred students” and was not reliable. He told BBC Radio 4 that in many cases, people classified as students when they arrived in the UK were recorded as ‘workers’ when they left. He claimed that in most cases, students complied with the terms of their study visas and Home Office research from 2007-2012 showed that just two per cent did not.
Mr Willetts said: “My view is that the vast majority do leave… I don't know why she is using these figures, if she is going to rely on them ...Of course they are in circulation, but they must not be used as a basis for policy.
“It is not the case that out of the 150,000 or so overseas non-EU students who come to Britain every year 100,000, two thirds, of them suddenly breach all their visa conditions and stay on for many years. There is no reliable evidence that suggests that is actually happening.”