Boris Johnson backs dropping foreign students from net migration statistics

Posted On: 
4th December 2016

Boris Johnson has risked sparking a row with Downing Street after saying foreign students should be excluded from net migration statistics. 

Boris Johnson on the Andrew Marr Show
Credit: 
BBC iPlayer

The Foreign Secretary said international students were a “massive benefit”, and highlighted their economic contribution as well as the ‘soft power’ benefits of being the “knowledge capital”.

His call for students to be removed from the overall tally of immigrants to the UK contradicts the policy of No 10 and Theresa May, while he also refused to endorse the Government’s policy of cutting overall net migration to the tens of thousands.

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When Chancellor Philip Hammond suggested removing non-UK students from the migration count earlier in the year, No 10 publicly slapped him down, declaring: “We are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included.”

Asked on ITV’s Peston on Sunday show whether he believed students should not form part of the overall count, Mr Johnson said: “I do take that view and I think it’s a massive benefit to this country.

“You’ve got to make sure, as Theresa has rightly said, when they come they’ve got to be coming for a bona fide degree and they’re not staying on without position. That is totally reasonable.

“But don’t forget that international students, I used to be shadow spokesman for higher education. Even then the contribution I think was £5bn per year from their fees to our higher education economy.”

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said in her conference speech that further restrictions on students would form part of the Government’s efforts to cut immigration.

Last week’s net migration figures showed 330,000 more people came to the UK in the year to June than left – more than triple the Government’s target of cutting immigration to less than 100,000.

In total 163,000 people came to the UK for study last year, while 68,000 people who arrived for the same reason left the country, leaving net student immigration at approximately 90,000.  

Mr Johnson, who has been one of the most outspoken advocates of the benefits of immigration into Britain, said he believed the overall level at the moment was too high.

“My own personal view is I think the 330,000 net was very high – too high,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“We’ve got to have a system of control that allows you to get down below that, so I would be in favour of a reduction but you can still have a very dynamic, open economy with immigration running at a reasonable level. That’s what we want to see…

“What I’ve always argued is that the crucial thing about immigration is to build public consent for what is happening. It’s only by taking back control that you can do that; it’s only by taking back control you can get the numbers down at all. And then you have to go to people and say, look, you’ve got to understand there is a sense in which the sheer desire of the world to come to this country, high-skilled workers, is a massive compliment and tribute to the UK economy.

The Foreign Secretary demurred, however, when quizzed on whether the target to cut net immigration to less than 100,000 was appropriate.

He replied: “The pledge has been made to get immigration down and Theresa’s right to say the only way to do that is taking back control.”