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August 2017

May’s migration mayhem

Today's figures from border checks throw cold water on Theresa May’s stance on student net migration, argues Melanie Butler

Mrs May was wrong about international students – most of them go home. Only 3 per cent failed to leave the UK after their studies new statistics have shown. No surprises there. It is not as if the experts didn’t predict it.

As the wonderful people at Oxford’s Migration Observatory pointed out previously, if as many as 50,000 students were staying on illegally every year, as was suggested by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) - they would be hard to miss.
Especially since nearly half of the students are Chinese. A quarter of a million highly-educated English-speaking Chinese graduates working illegally in fish and chip shops or stacking shelves? I think the Daily Mail would have noticed.

The number of students staying on illegally is more like 3,000 to 4,000. And that is not an estimate. That is the figure arrived at by counting them out, one by one, as they board the plane. A scheme that the British Universities volunteered to fund way back in 2012. Mrs May refused. Why?
And why did the ONS get is so wrong? It comes back down to the Chinese. The ONS student figures come from the results of surveys of travellers arriving in and leaving Britain at any time during the day. But they don’t run the surveys at night. Which is a problem, since virtually every flight from Britain to China takes off at night. While flights bringing Chinese students in arrive in the morning – just in time to answer the survey questions. We surveyed them in but until now, we didn’t count them out.

The truth of the matter is that the ONS migration figures are unreliable and that’s according to its own regulator the National Statistics Authority. In Britain, we simply have no idea how many legal migrants we have, never mind the illegal ones. And neither does Mrs May.
Not, it seems, that she cares. Anyone who, like me, spent the Christmas holidays in 2010 going through the Home Office figures on international students with a fine tooth comb will have known from the beginning. Mrs May had been in office only a matter of months and it was already clear that she had students in her sights.

The figures put out for consultation were just bonkers. Net student migration was calculated by deducting the infinitesimally small number of British students going abroad to study for more than the year from the number of students coming in for more than six months.
Thirty per cent of all Pakistani students, and 20 per cent of all Chinese were calculated as staying on, based on a handful of case studies. Best of all, every student – including every foreign child at a British boarding school- was assumed to be working 20 hours a week and earning £16,000 a year.

Did Mrs May believe any of this? Almost certainly not. She just knew that if she could slash the number of students coming in, net migration would fall as all the existing students left. And she was right. Right on cue, net migration fell in 2013, most of that down to a falling number of students.

Mrs May was on a roll. The trick to manipulating net migration figures was cutting students. She declared hundreds of colleges to be bogus, no doubt some of them were.

When a TV documentary showed three colleges running exam frauds, she deported 46,000 students – illegally according to the courts.

When there was no evidence anywhere to do anything she made some up – students at FE colleges lost their work rights based on figures for fraud she refused to release.

Like clockwork, every February for the last seven years Mrs May has come up with some new fiendish way of discouraging students from coming to Britain.

And now that we know that it is all a pile of baloney? That students don’t stay and barely create a blip on net migrations? Surely Theresa May, now Prime Minsiter, will graciously remove student numbers from the migration figures? Every single other minister, including the new Home Secretary Amber Rudd wants her to. And she may. But then again, she may not.

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