International students and private sector educational institutions were sacrificed by the Government as UK net migration dropped by a third in 2012, latest immigration figures reveal.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said 163,000 more people came to live in the UK for 12 months to the end of 2012 or more than had left, compared with 247,000 the year before.
The ONS confirmed that the fall was driven by a drop in immigration rather than a rise in emigration, and studying here was still the most common reason to come to the UK.
The Government has set a target to slash net migration to the “tens of thousands” by 2015 and students are the main target whatever the cost.
However, ONS said that 515,000 people had immigrated to the UK in the year ending June 2012 compared to 589,000 who had come in the previous year, a fall of just under 9%.
The number of student visas issue plummeted by 20% – a loss of well over 40,000 fee paying students or an estimated £2 billion in lost revenue for the recession hit UK economy.
The independent education sector lost hundreds of millions of pounds in revenue last year alone, as a direct result of the Government’s crackdown on so-called ‘bogus’ students and ‘bogus’ colleges.
Visas issued for English Language schools fell by nearly 70%, while other higher education saw similar fall of 62%.
ONS figures also showed:
- A fall in the number of migrants from New Commonwealth countries – 117,000 compared with 168,000 the previous year – and those from EU accession countries, including Poland – 62,000 compared with 86,000 the previous year
- Some 352,000 emigrants left the UK in the year ending June 2012, “similar” to the estimate of 342,000 in the year to June 2011
- Excluding visitor and transit visas, the number of visas issued fell 10% to 507,701 in the year ending December 2012, the lowest 12-monthly total recorded using comparable data available from 2005
- In the year to December 2012, there were 209,804 visas issued for the purpose of study (excluding student visitors), a fall of 20% compared with the previous 12 months
- Sponsored visa applications fell 22% (see £18600 minimum income rule – New Immigration Rules Split Families Apart), with a 3% increase for the university sector
- Falls of 62% for further education, 69% for English language schools and 14% for independent schools
Immigration Minister Mark Harper said: “Our tough reforms are having an impact in all the right places – we have tightened the routes where abuse was rife and overall numbers are down as a result.
“We will continue to work hard to bring net migration down from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament and to create a selective immigration system that works in our national interest.”
But Chris Bryant, shadow immigration minister, said: “Net migration is falling but public concern is rising.
“These figures demonstrate that the government is not focusing on the kind of immigration that worries people the most. Half the drop is down to students, while 30% of the net migration reduction is down to fewer British people.
“Worryingly, the government appear to be taking some students away from full visas with proper checks and giving them student visitor visas instead, yet we know these visas have fewer checks and are more open to abuse. This is an own goal.”
The Government’s Lib Dem coalition partners, who fought the last election on a more open ‘regional’ immigration policy and an amnesty for illegal immigrants, were surprisingly quiet yesterday.
Dr Scott Blinder, of Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, predicted that the government could find it “even more challenging” from now on to reach its target.
“Of the decline of 92,000 in net migration from its recent peak, a bit more than half come from changes in non-EU migration, where the government’s policy changes may be having an impact.
“Making the further cuts in non-EU net migration needed to reach the target… could still be a difficult task, as these figures are greater than the total remaining reductions projected in the government’s impact assessments for its policy changes.”
The Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr) think tank said much of the fall in immigration had been the result of a fall in the number of people coming to study in the UK – which was down from 239,000 to 197,000 – which would only have a short-term effect on the net migration figures.
Sarah Mulley of the IPPR think tank said: “Because most students stay in the UK only for a short time, reduced immigration now will mean reduced emigration in the future, which by 2015 could partially reverse the falls we are seeing today.” Source: ONS and BBC.
The measures to cut immigration are working, but at what cost to the economy?
On a trade visit to India last month UK Prime Minister David Cameron told prospective students that Britain will be “incredibly welcoming” to them if they come to this country to study and work.
But UK university leaders, MP’s and business groups all say the Government’s tough rhetoric on immigration and so called ‘bogus’ students is damaging Britain’s international competitiveness, concerns that are privately shared by some ministers.
In a desperate bid to stop Bulgarians and Romanians from coming to the UK, ministers are considering ways to restrict access to services like the NHS, social security and public housing, which will be difficult when their hands are tied by EU laws.
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