May rules out foreign students exemption from net migration figures
Theresa May has ruled out exempting foreign students from net migration figures as part of a sweeping review of the system.
Number 10 had indicated the issue would be examined as part of the wholesale reforms despite the Prime Minister's resistance to changes to the treatment of students while she was home secretary.
But hours after giving that indication, Downing Street clarified that the Government was "categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included".
A Number 10 spokesman said: "The Government objective is to reduce annual net migration to the tens of thousands, and in order to deliver this we are keeping all visa routes under review.
"Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included."
The comments came after Downing Street had previously hinted all parts of the immigration system would be examined.
At a regular briefing in Westminster, a spokesman said: "The issue of migrant numbers that will come into the country, be it student or otherwise, is an issue that will have to be very closely looked at by the Government as we set about establishing a new system."
Asked if the issue of foreign students was subject to review, the spokesman said: "The whole issue of migration is subject to review."
The Government is committed to reducing net migration to the "tens of thousands", although the target has never been met since the Tories entered office in 2010.
Chancellor Philip Hammond had been questioned about the issue of foreign students being counted in the net migration figures when he appeared before the Treasury Select Committee on Wednesday.
He said decisions about what was covered by the net migration target should be guided by public perception, indicating that he did not believe people's main concerns were about students.
Mr Hammond told MPs: "When the public tells us loudly and clearly that they have a problem with levels of migration, it is very clear to me that they are not talking about computer programmers, brain surgeons, bankers, senior managers... possibly students.
"But they are talking about people competing for entry-level jobs with people in the UK who, perhaps, have a level of skills that means they only have access to those kind of jobs."
Meanwhile, Brexit Secretary David Davis insisted that the reforms to the system after leaving the EU would not stop "highly intelligent" migrants coming to the UK.
He told the Commons: "Clearly it is not going to be in the national interest to restrict the movement of talent, if you like, the free movement of brain power.
"You can be very, very confident that we will not be limiting highly intelligent, highly capable people's access."
Liberal Democrat education spokesman John Pugh said: "Theresa May's stubborn refusal to change tack risks doing serious damage to Britain's economy and global reputation.
"Stopping talented overseas students coming to study in the UK does nothing to address concerns over migration, it just undermines our world-leading universities.
"Once again the Conservative Government is pursuing a narrow and reckless obsession with overall migration numbers, instead of standing up for what's best for Britain."