UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) on Friday published a statement of the international student migration, saying their report included two misunderstandings.
The report released on Wednesday by ONS on foreign student migration said many who got to the UK for higher education tended to stay behind at the end of their degree.
The Guardian reports that new data, published by the ONS and based on recently created exit checks at Britain’s borders, showed just 4,600 overstayed their visa last year. Estimates for previous years had been close to 100,000.
The old data on overseas students – like all previous UK net migration estimates – were based on the International Passenger Survey (IPS), reports the BBC.
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The ONS in its statement said: “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 BBC explains the new data is vastly different because officials now have access to exit check data, which records actual behaviour of international students rather than what people leaving the UK tell IPS interviewers at ports and airports about their future plans.
When non-EU former students were departing the UK in 2015 and 2016, 28% told the IPS they were unsure how long they would be out of the UK or that they intended to return within 12 months.
Exit checks data suggest the proportion of non-EU students who actually returned is much lower at around 6%, meaning there may have been an underestimate of long-term emigration.
"There is no evidence of a major issue of non-EU students overstaying their entitlement to stay," the ONS said in its report.
The report focused on 1.3 million visas granted to non-European Economic Area nationals which expired in 2016/17, without an extension to stay longer.
It showed that out of 181,024 expired student visas, 176,407, or 97.4%, left the country in time. There were similar proportions for work (95.4%) and visitor (96.7%) visas.
This gave an overall percentage of 96.3% of visa holders departing before their leave to be in the country ran out.
The UK’s Labour's shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbot said: “The exit check data showed Prime Minister Theresa May's long-running campaign to malign international students is based on fantasy, with no evidence of a major issue with students overstaying."