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Theresa May stands firm on overseas students counted in immigration data

The PM told reporters with her in China she had no plans to change the policy of including students in the statistics.

Theresa May has made clear she will continue to resist pressure to remove overseas students from immigration figures.

Critics argue that the inclusion of students – most of whom return home after their studies – has made it impossible for the Government to meet its self-imposed target of reducing net migration below 100,000 a year.

They also warn that it undermines efforts to boost an increasingly vital source of income for the higher education sector.

A new Immigration Bill this year will allow MPs to force a vote on the issue, which Home Secretary Amber Rudd is reported to have told the PM privately she will lose.

Mrs May herself left no doubt during this week’s trade mission to China that she sees education as a key part of her Global Britain strategy to boost commercial links around the world after Brexit.

Her first destination on the three-day trip was Wuhan in central China, little-known to most Britons but home to one of the country’s most prestigious universities and the largest number of students of any city in the world.

There, she spoke to students about her ambitions to increase numbers of Chinese students in the UK – at about 150,000, currently the biggest contingent from outside the EU.

But she told reporters travelling with her that she had no plans to change the policy of including students in migration statistics, which she has maintained through six years as Home Secretary and 18 months as Prime Minister, despite reported pressure for change from within her own cabinet.

“You won’t get a different answer from what I’ve said over the years,” she said. “The reason students have been in the numbers is because it’s an international definition of a migrant.

“It was important to look at what was happening with students in the UK when I was Home Secretary. There was a lot of abuse taking place in colleges.

“Something like 900 colleges can no longer bring in overseas students because all too often they were being brought in to work rather than for education.

“Once you see that abuse out of the system, students coming in for the period of their education and then leaving actually wash through the numbers – they don’t have a long-term impact on the numbers.”

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