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Forging ahead with crude reductions to non-EU immigration would be a risk to Britain’s economy – IPPR

IPPR argues for a strategic approach to managing migration post-Brexit to meet our key economic and trade priorities, following the Home Secretary’s announcement this week of a consultation on the study and work immigration routes

IPPR argues that:

  • The government should take a strategic view of our immigration system to protect our economy in an uncertain post-Brexit landscape. The first step to do this is to break down the net migration targets into its component parts – including workers, family migrants, and refugees – in order to develop a nuanced immigration system that meets our economic needs and responds to public concerns;
  • International students are a major economic asset to the UK and a vital part of our education exports. Students of all abilities pay fees and contribute to our economy, so there is a weak case for distinguishing students on the basis of academic ability within our immigration system. The government has in the past said it wants to welcome international students to the UK and the public support this aim; so it is vital that it now sends out the right message to ensure that we remain an open, attractive place for students across the globe;
  • It is right that the government invests in upskilling the UK workforce to meet our long-term economic needs. But this cannot simply operate as a substitute for migrant labour – many migrants coming through the skilled worker route bring unique skills to our labour market that complement British workers and boost productivity;
  • The International Passenger Survey, which is the basis of the government’s net migration target, is not reliable enough to alone guide policy. This is particularly the case for student migration, where our research has found wide disparities between different data sources on how many international students stay in the UK after completing their studies. The government should include within its review an investigation of the underlying data sources for each of these visa routes.

On the announcement of a Controlling Migration Fund: IPPR has long advocated a fund targeted at areas under particular strain from migration. However such a fund should be targeted not just at areas of high migration, as the Home Secretary announced, but at areas where increases have been most abrupt. It is also vital the government quickly explain how it will be funded.

Phoebe Griffith, IPPR Associate Director for Migration, Integration and Communities, responding to the speech by Amber Rudd at the Conservative Party Conference, said:

“It is vital that, in the wake of the Brexit vote, the government takes a smart, strategic approach to our migration system, so it is right that the government takes a careful review of our student and work routes.

“But forging ahead with crude reductions in numbers would be a serious risk to our economy. International students are a core part of our education exports and there is broad public support for keeping numbers at the current level.

“Moreover, the underlying data that suggests they make up a large part of net migration is dubious. If the government decides to take a tough line on students, it would harm our economy and damage our relations with trade partners abroad, such as India and China – and all on the basis of figures that could simply be wrong.”


Kieren Walters 07921 403651

Editor’s note:

  1. IPPRs recent report Destination Education looked in detail at the issue of international student migration and the limits to current government policy. More information can be found here: 
  2. IPPR aims to influence policy in the present and reinvent progressive politics in the future, and is dedicated to the better country that Britain can be through progressive policy and politics. With nearly 60 staff across four offices throughout the UK, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence.

Our independent research is wide ranging, it covers the economy, work, skills, transport, democracy, the environment, education, energy, migration and healthcare among many other areas.

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