Skip to content

Cutting overseas students and skilled migrants will only harm UK

06 Oct 2016

Writing in New Scientist, CaSE Deputy Director Naomi Weir takes a look at Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s new plans for immigration policy, announced this week at Conservative Party conference.

I am in no doubt that being Home Secretary is a tough, if not impossible job. There are battles on all fronts – from tackling modern slavery to staying one step ahead of terror attacks. So why is UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd not picking her battles more wisely?

She outlined plans on immigration control in her speech at the Conservative Party conference yesterday aimed at addressing public worries that fuelled the vote to quit the European Union. But then she went on to talk mainly about international student numbers and the system by which skilled workers come to the UK.

These may be the main levers she has for reducing legal migration prior to Brexit, but they are not the types of migration that voters are concerned about.

The public view is much more positive about highly skilled migrants. A 2013 poll found that scientists and researchers are the most favoured skilled migrants with 35 per cent of those responding saying they actually support more of them coming. The public also view students favourably, with a 2014 poll showing that only 22 per cent think of international students as immigrants.

And the positive attitude has good reason. In general, immigrants make a net contribution to the UK economy. Between 2001 and 2011, conservative estimates predict that those coming from European Economic Area nations paid in 34 per cent more than they took out, a net contribution of about £22.1 billion. The benefits come not just from those who move here to work.

Societal self-harm

In her speech, Rudd wondered whether the ability of all universities to recruit foreign students is really adding value to our economy. It is.

The 435,000 international students in the UK contribute more to the economy than they take out through the services they use. Higher education is a growing export market that in 2011-12 generated £10.7 billion in export earnings for the UK. The geographic spread of the country’s universities is a plus, as foreign students are particularly valuable to regional economies, something the Conservatives say they want to support.

Rudd said that “it’s only by reducing the numbers back down to sustainable levels that we can change the tide of public opinion”. But the public already recognise and even value international students and skilled workers.

Skilled migrants are precisely those who will be working in the NHS to help meet higher demand for health services; helping design and build the transport systems, housing and infrastructure that will help meet the needs of a changing population; undertaking world-changing research and teaching science and maths in schools and universities to grow the UK’s science and engineering skills.

Inflicting economic and societal self-harm by further restricting these kinds of migration will not address public concerns. If the Home Secretary gets her way, the UK will lose out.

You can read the full article published in New Scientist on 5th October 2016.