The government is making significant progress towards its target of reducing net migration to the UK to less than 100,000 per year. Figures published on Thursday showed estimated net migration down to 153,000 in the year ending September 2012 (from 242,000 in the previous year). But this has come at a cost – in their haste to meet the target, ministers have changed the rules to keep out migrants who can bring huge benefits to the UK.
The decline in immigration has been driven in large part by falling numbers of international students. Focused on their target, it has made sense, at least in the short term, for ministers to focus on students, simply because they are the largest single group arriving in any given year (accounting for around 60% of non-EU immigration). Put simply, while international students are included in the net migration target, the easiest way for the government to make progress towards it (and indeed the only way to meet it) is for ministers to seek significant reductions in their numbers. For all the talk of the UK being “open for business”, the government’s target is completely incompatible with growth in the international student market in the UK.