Calls to drop students from migration cap rebuffed by Downing Street

2 January 2018, 16:22

Downing Street has rebuffed calls from senior Conservatives to remove students from the UK's net migration target.

Theresa May is resisting stripping out students for fear of being accused of fiddling the figures to hit her target of reducing immigration to the tens of thousands.

It stood at 230,000 in the year to June.

The Prime Minister's spokesman denied there was any change planned and said Mrs May's position was "clear".

Despite lobbying from newly-elected Scottish Tory MPs as revealed by Sky News last month, their efforts to change the way migration is counted appear to have faltered.

Asked if she would change the policy, the PM's spokesman said: "No - the position of the Prime Minister on this is clear.

"The international definition of an immigrant is someone who is here for more than 12 months."

Asked if Mrs May would win a vote in the Commons if an amendment were tabled to the Immigration Bill to take students out of the number, the spokesman said: "I'm not aware that there is a vote."

He was also challenged on Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson saying the current policy was "distortive, counter-productive and sends out entirely the wrong signals".

The spokesman replied: "There's no upper limit on the number of students who study in this country, many do so and our universities provide them with a wonderful service.

"Having a record of how many people are in the country is obviously necessary."

It comes amid reports of a Cabinet division over the position on counting international students in and out of the country.

Sky News revealed in December how MPs had held private meetings with Home Secretary Amber Rudd and immigration minister Brandon Lewis to appeal for a change.

Universities have argued that removing students from immigration numbers will send a powerful signal that talent is welcome in post-Brexit UK.