Asks migration advisory committee for better assessment
26th July 2011: The home secretary, Theresa May, has declined to recognise an official impact evaluation, which put the cost to Britain’s economy of her curbs on overseas students at up to £3.6bn.
May has out rightly rejected her own department’s official assessment of the impact of her policy on overseas student visas. She has infact in its place asked the migration advisory committee for a "better assessment and a better judgment of the true picture".
The government supposes 260,000 fewer study visas to be issued to non-EU students over the next five years as a result of the changes.
By the next general election, ministers have vowed to curtail overall annual net migration to the "tens of thousands".
The impact assessment estimates that, in its "worst-case scenario", the new policy will have a net cost of £3.2bn over the next four years in reduced economic output and a further £330m in lost tuition and immigration visa fees.
It gives a "central estimate" of £2.4bn net lost and a "best-case scenario" of £1.3bn lost.
The home secretary told MPs that she does not consider these estimates as they do not take full account of the costs to public services. These make an assumption that if a student does not come with a visa and work in Britain, that job will not be filled by anyone else.
She said: "I have asked the migration advisory committee – and I am not going to pluck at figures from thin air – to look at these issues to see if we can get to a point where we can get a better assessment and a better judgment of the true picture, in relation to the costs or otherwise of the decisions that we are taking, because I do not believe that the impact assessment gives a full and true picture at the moment."
The actions of May, are strongly disapproved of by MPs on the Commons home affairs select committee. They assert it confirms their apprehension that Home Office ministers are not taking "evidence-based policy" as seriously as they could.
The MPs say that the questioned impact assessment – which warns of the £2.4bn cost to the British economy of curbing overseas student visas – was not published until 12 weeks after the policy was declared, despite ministerial promises.
The home affairs select committee follow-up report on student visas published on Tuesday says: "We were disappointed that the impact assessment was so delayed in this instance and call on the Home Office to take measures to ensure the situation does not recur."
But the MPs on the home affairs committee say the impact assessment may in fact be underestimating, rather than overestimating, the costs. This is being felt because it assumes that eight out of 10 places left vacant in further education colleges and English language schools by overseas students would be filled by other EU nationals or British students, without any loss of income.
The MPs say it is questionable how easy it will be to fill these student places.
The chairman of the committee, Keith Vaz said that the home secretary’s dismissal of the impact assessment was very disappointing.
He added that the government appeared to be not only making policy without sufficient immigration statistics, but also ignoring its own proofs.
Vas elaborated "We reiterate the need for an immigration policy which is both evidence-based and does not adversely affect the British economy."
In an official response to the committee, the immigration minister, Damian Green said he agreed that any modification in student immigration policy had to be accompanied by a publicly available impact assessment.
Green said the tough measures on student visas were essential not only to block the problems of bogus colleges and deter bogus students, but also to provide proper control of the overseas student route.
The package of measures includes a system of licensed colleges, stricter English language requirements and restrictions on working rights and the ability to bring dependents to Britain.
The consultation on the package provoked 31,000 responses – one of the largest since the coalition came to power.