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Net migration falls but concerns over policy remain

The latest provisional figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the net migration figure for the year ending June 2012 was 163,000 – a fall of 84,000 from the previous year.

Changes to immigration rules

According to the Government, this fall follows a number of changes introduced to the immigration rules, including a tightening up of the immigration routes where abuse was most common. The Government claims that its changes will ensure the country continues to attract highly skilled workers and genuine, talented students.

Migration figures

The ONS figures also show that:

  • There was a decrease in the number of citizens immigrating to the UK from New Commonwealth countries. 117,000 citizens from New Commonwealth countries immigrated to the UK in the year ending June 2012; significantly lower than 168,000 the previous year.
  • The numbers of citizens immigrating to the UK from EU Accession countries (EU8) decreased significantly. In the year ending June 2012, 62,000 EU8 citizens migrated to the UK, which is lower than 86,000 the previous year and the lowest since 2004.
  • 197,000 migrants arrived to study in the year to June 2012 – down from 239,000 in the previous year. Study remains the most common reason stated for migrating to the UK.
  • Excluding visitor and transit visas, the number of visas issued fell 10% to 507,701 in the year ending December 2012 (compared with 564,807 in the previous 12 months), 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%. This change was not uniform, with a 3% increase for the university sector and falls of 62%, 69% and 14% for further education, English language schools and independent schools, respectively.

Concerns over student figures

Despite the positive light put on the figures by the Government, other groups have been less welcoming, particularly with regard to student figures.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) claims that the progress made by the Government towards its 2015 target of a net migration figure below 100,000 is mainly due to a reduction in the numbers of international students. According to the IPPR, this will only have a short term effect on net migration.

“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,” explained Sarah Mulley, Associate Director at IPPR.

Separate classification for international students

The Institute of Directors is also concerned about the impact student numbers have on the overall immigration figures, and has backed a renewed call by the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee to have international students removed from the Government’s migration target while they are studying in the UK.

“It is good for our economy, our universities and our international trade links to have the world’s brightest people coming here to study, and it is deeply unwise to push them into the arms of our competitors,” commented Simon Walker, Director General of the Institute of Directors.

A Business, Innovation and Skills Committee report recommended in September 2012 that “for domestic policy purposes, overseas students should be recorded under a separate classification and not be counted against the overall limit on net migration.”

The Committee is critical of the Government’s response to this report, both for being late and for not containing enough detail.

It also claims that the evidence used by the Government to reject the removal of students from the net migration target of below 100,000 a year was ‘too weak to justify a policy with such profound implications’ for the education sector.


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