Yesterday, there were publications on international students from the ONS and on exit checks from the Home Office. A full overview was published. The reporting since has sometimes included two misunderstandings.
The first is that the new detail on students shows that net migration has been overestimated by 100,000. This is not the case. The material published yesterday was only about students and does not provide evidence about the accuracy of the totals.
The second misunderstanding concerns the discussion of students who overstay their student visas.
ONS figures have shown since 2012 that around 100,000 more people enter each year on a student visa than those who leave saying they have been a student. Both ONS and Home Office statisticians have pointed out that this is not an estimate of students who overstay their visas. Many people do not simply immigrate for study and leave afterwards. Their lives are more complex – some people for example arrive on a work visa and legitimately change to a study visa and vice versa.
Yesterday’s publications did, however, conclude that the student emigration figures derived solely from the International Passenger Survey (IPS) were likely to be an underestimate because fewer students appear in fact to return to the UK within 12 months than say they intend to return when they are asked on the point of departure.
The Home Office publication focused on visa compliance. One finding was that 97% of non-EU students who were due to leave the UK had in fact left the UK on time. This does not necessarily mean that 97% of students emigrate after their studies. Some students will legitimately remain in the UK, and the study cannot distinguish between former students who are emigrating long-term and those who are taking short trips abroad before returning to the UK.
The ONS publication focused on migration of international students and showed that 51% of non-EU nationals who were on study visas that expired between 2015 and 2016 emigrated long-term. In addition, a further 18% departed but returned to the UK, 26% extended their visas and 5% could not be accounted for.
Our future work will use administrative data to improve our understanding of different groups of migrants, and in particular why they are migrating. In the meantime we will no longer publish breakdowns of net migration by reason as these do not reflect the complexities of people’s lives.