Let 2018 be the year in which we stop labelling international students as immigrants

Christian May
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International students are currently counted in overall migrant figures (Source: Getty)

The rise in rail fares may have added insult to hangover, but it remains the case that the start of a new year brings with it a feeling of renewal, or at least the prospect of it.

With Brexit talks poised to enter a more meaningful (if complicated) phase and with UK growth revised up (contrary to forecasts, naturally) there are reasons to feel optimistic about the year ahead. Bank of England agents even expect wage growth to accelerate this year, taking some of the sting out of inflation. However, as much as this is a time to look to the future, certain policy issues remain unresolved and they must be dragged into 2018 and dealt with.

The list includes planning reform which, despite the best efforts of communities secretary Sajid Javid, remains stuck in the green-belt mud. Could this be the year when Javid and others tempt Theresa May down from her Nimby perch? Don’t bet on it. Immigration is another policy area that slipped through 2017 untouched by reform.

Read more: These are the most attractive universities for international students

The issue will only get bigger as the UK inches towards Brexit, but one element of this debate that is ripe for a quick fix is the way in which we currently treat (and count) international students. For years, sensible voices in Whitehall have been calling for them to be removed from the net migration figures, and for years May has blocked any move to do so – first as Home Secretary, now as Prime Minister.

Including students in the overall immigration figure while simultaneously striving to reduce migration to the tens of thousands has resulted in ministers actually deterring foreign students in a bid to bring the numbers down.

This newspaper has long campaigned for the farce to come to an end, and earlier this week government sources briefed the press that this damaging anomaly was finally going to be rectified.

Read more: Including students in the migrant cap is sheer buffoonery

The threat of an amendment to the upcoming Immigration Bill (which the government would have a hard time defeating) has focused minds.

Polling shows the public would have no problem with the move, and it would be a bold step towards the kind of ‘global Britain’ that May keeps talking about. Let this be the year in which we stop labelling international students as immigrants.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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