Only 1% of international students break the terms of their visa and fail to leave after their course ends, according to a leaked government report obtained by The Times.
The government has suggested in the past that tens of thousands of students are overstaying their visas every year — but the figure is closer to 1,500, according to the report.
The findings severely undermine the case for a government crackdown on foreign students, something the government is keen to pursue.
Home secretary Amber Rudd said at the Conservative party conference that she was looking for ways to help those students who “stick to the rules,” and prime minister Theresa May believes the student visa system is frequently abused by economic migrants.
May was known for her hardline stance against foreign students when she was home secretary. The Times reports that Amber Rudd tried to have students removed from migration statistics so they would not be part of the immigrant crackdown, but May overruled her.
The government study looked at data from exit checks, which were reintroduced last year. Exit checks provide details of travellers leaving British borders, and allow the government to determine exactly who has left, and who is still in the country.
The checks are detailed enough to allow the government to know exactly how many international students have left on time, and how many have overstayed.
A source told The Times that while some students applied to switch visa categories — to a skilled work visa, for example — only about 1% of non-EU students overstay their visas. Based on past estimates of international students that number is around 1,500.
The Home Office has denied that the data is conclusive and said the study was “not completed.”
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