The number of student visas issued by the UK in the first quarter of 2012 fell by 62%, according to the government. The news comes a day after the Office of National Statistics (ONS) revealed that the government is failing badly to meet its target to reduce net migration.
The news comes just a week after a left-leaning think tank, the Institute of Public Policy Research, claimed the government was gaming the net migration tally by including students. Students are currently the biggest migrant group in the UK, accounting for 250,000 of new arrivals in the year to September 2011 – up slightly from 245,000 in the previous year.
However, major study destinations such as the USA and Canada do not include students in net migration figures because of their temporary status – something critics argue should apply in Britain as well.
Dr Martin Ruhs of Oxford University’s Migration Observatory said: “Work, family and ‘other’ migration from outside the EU are at a very similar level to where they were in 2000, but non-EU students coming to the UK have increased substantially, which has been a big contributor to the challenges that the government faces in hitting its target.”
While the fall in quarter one issuance is considerable, Universities UK said it was too early to tell what the end of year figures would be.
A spokesperson said: “We are still in the middle of the applications process for the next academic year and the key time will be in the coming summer months… In the long-term, the message must be heard, loud and clear, that the UK continues to welcome genuine international students.”