The basis of Britain’s crackdown on foreign students in recent years was put into question after a government study described as “secret” reportedly revealed that the number of overstaying students is far lower than previously estimated.
Only 1% of international students – about 1,500 – break the terms of their visa by refusing to leave Britain after their course ends, according to the study, The Times reported on Thursday.
The Home Office said it did not recognize the 1% figure.
As home secretary, Prime Minister Theresa May had launched a crackdown on international students, including closing the two-year post-study work visa that was popular among self-financing students from India and other non-European Union countries.
The Times reported the research threatened to undermine May’s case for a crackdown on foreign student recruitment and called into question past estimates that put the figure of overstaying students far higher.
“Official statistics have been used to suggest that tens of thousands of foreign students ‘vanish’ each year after finishing their degrees, but the latest study would suggest that the true figure is 1,500,” it said.
“The Home Office, which commissioned the analysis, disputed that it was conclusive and said that the work was ‘not completed’. It has refused to share the study with other Whitehall ministries and rebuffed requests from The Times to release it, including under the Freedom of Information Act,” the report added.
The newspaper quoted an unnamed Whitehall source as saying the study showed that the proportion of non-EU students at British universities, who remained beyond their permitted date, was very small. Some switch to other visa categories after completing courses.
The report said home secretary Amber Rudd tried to have international students removed from net migration figures, enabling them to avoid the crackdown on migrants, but was overruled by May.
Rudd announced new plans to curb student numbers from non-EU countries last week at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, sparking a chorus of concern among stakeholders.