There is no evidence to suggest students are outstaying their visas, the UK's statistical watchdog has today confirmed.
Of those whose visas expired in 2016 and 2017, some 69 per cent of the international students left the UK, while a further 26 per cent extended their visas for further study or for other reasons such as work. The remaining five per cent have no identified record of departure or extension, or appeared to depart after their visa had expired, ONS said.
That puts the figure at around 4,600.
Previous estimates have suggested that figure could be more like 90,000 a year, fuelling demands for the government to clamp down on student visas.
But the ONS said the old method used to compile this data was "likely to underestimate student emigration, and, therefore, any implied student net migration figure is likely to be an overestimate."
"The work of the statisticians across government suggests that recent cohorts of non-EU students are to a very large extent compliant with their visas in terms of departing or staying legally via extensions of leave," said Iain Bell, deputy national statistician for population and public policy.
"This work crucially demonstrates two things: first, that many people do not simply immigrate for study and leave afterwards; their lives are more complex – some people arrive on a work visa and legitimately change to a study visa and vice versa and second, there is no evidence of a major issue of non-EU students overstaying their entitlement to stay."
The findings were released today alongside the launch of a government-backed study into the impact students have on the economy.
It was also published as the ONS revealed a significant drop in migration, prompted by a spike in EU workers returning to their countries of origin and a reduction in the number of overseas students.