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Target illegal immigration, not international students, public says

Image: James Cridland [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

Survey suggests general public in UK do not want ministers to abolish graduate visas

Only 2 per cent of the UK public believe the government should prioritise reducing net migration by clamping down on post-study working visas, a survey has suggested.

According to a poll of more than 1,000 adults, commissioned by the Russell Group of research-intensive universities, only 1 per cent of respondents said they thought international graduates should be a priority target for reducing immigration—compared with 45 per cent who said the government should prioritise blocking the illegal arrival of migrants via small boats.

The poll, carried out by Survation, found that ​​57 per cent think tackling illegal immigration should be the government’s immigration priority. It comes as the government is considering restricting or abolishing the graduate route visa, which permits international students to work in the UK for two to three years after completing their studies.

Modelling by the London Economics consultancy suggests that a single cohort of international students has a net economic benefit of £37 billion to the UK, the Russell Group pointed out. Some 43 per cent of people participating in the survey, published on 20 May, described the economic contribution of international students as positive and 50 per cent agreed that bringing more international students to the UK would help the economy. Just 13 per cent disagreed.

Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, said it was “clear that the British public recognise the value of international students to their local economy, to our society and to our global standing.

“It’s therefore no surprise that they overwhelmingly want to see the numbers of international students increase or remain the same,” he added. “Making further restrictions would not only run counter to plans to grow the national economy, but would be out of step with what voters want.”

News on possible amendments to the graduate route visa is expect on 23 May, the day on which the Office for National Statistics is due to publish the latest UK-wide data on migration.

Universities UK has published a briefing ahead of Thursday’s data release, arguing that the graduate route visa is “a vital part of the UK’s offer as a leading study destination”.

“Visa data show that most international students leave the UK shortly after completing their studies (83 per cent leave the UK within five years of arrival),” UUK said. “Following the sharp increase in international students following the pandemic, we are now seeing significant declines in demand and applications.”