Former UK Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine has called on the government to stop labeling foreign students as immigrants.
Most welcome foreigners studying in the UK, as they are not considered year-round citizens. Only one in five people consider foreign students to be immigrants, says a recently released poll, and almost 60% of the public do not want the number of international students to drop.
"The most common reaction is surprise and even bafflement that international students are classified as immigrants at all," according to a report by the British Future think tank and Universities UK, the representative organisation of the country's universities.
The Labour Party agrees. Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna said "Our view is that legitimate university students from overseas should be removed immediately from the net migration target."
According to the Home Office, foreign students are included in the immigrant count because they have "an impact on our communities and on our public services."
Heseltine argues that the students act as ambassadors for Britain's universities when they return to their home countries, promoting the schools and contributing to their prestige. They also offer "huge financial stability" to the schools, "enabling them to maintain their standards of excellence," whereas those who are true immigrants to the country do not always have many qualifications for work and put an unneeded strain on the economy.
According to the recent poll, 3 in 4 Britons would like to see international students stay in the country upon graduation and find jobs. 60% believe the students bring money into the local economy.
David Cameron would like the number of incoming immigrants to be below 100,000 by 2015.
âThe thing got out of control under the last Labour government and this Government is doing its best to try to regain the borders. But I think that students are really not what people perceive as immigrants," Lord Heseltine told BBC Radio.
However, according to Migration Watch UK's chairman Sir Andrew Green, the issue is not so clear-cut.
âNobody is against genuine students who return home but Lord Heseltine has not realised that only one third of non-EU students actually do so. The student route has become a massive hole in our immigration system. That is why the Government must stick to their guns on this matter.'
As of November, universities in Britain will lose their "highly-trusted sponsor" status if 10% or more of their students are refused visas. Previously this label was applied at 20%.
"We do want stronger controls on temporary student visitors for short courses – because those visas are being abused – but legitimate university students from overseas, who bring so much to our economy, should be removed immediately from the net migration target," Mr Umunna added.