A video report released by BBC recently discusses the on-going governmental debate about whether or not international students studying in the UK should be considered immigrants or visitors. Right now, the official answer is immigrants, but there is talk of changing it to visitors.
The Business and Education Department supports the change in status of international students from immigrants to visitors. They argue that students arrive in the UK with the intent to study for a few years and then return to their home country upon the completion of their degree. The Department recognizes the significant economic contribution that international students make to the economy—currently estimated at £8 billion per annum, and that figure is expected to rise. The Department also raises concerns that other countries such as the US, Australia, and Canada are aggressively campaigning for foreign students to come to their countries to study, and the UK recognizes that it is falling behind.
The Home Office, however, is dead set against the change. They believe that international students should be classified as immigrants. They acknowledge the figure that 20% of international students never actually leave the State following the completion of their degree, for a number of reasons, including marriage to a UK national, a work permit, or other strong ties to the State. They are, without question, immigrants, and the Home Office believes that classifying these students as anything other than immigrants would be “fiddling the figures.” It is surprising, however, to note that the Home Office is against the change. The UK tries to keep their net inward migration totals below 100,000 per annum, whereas the level is currently at about 250,000. A change in status of international students would lower this number significantly, meaning that the UK would be more on target with their net inward migration goals, but the Home Office allows that such a change would be simply manipulating the data. Critics say that classifying international students as visitors may deter them from applying to study in the UK, but the Home Office rejects this argument, saying that there has been a 9% increase in foreign applicants in the past year.