London Student

ONS vastly overestimated numbers of international students overstaying their visas

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is set to overhaul their data collection methods regarding international student migration after their figures differed from the Home Office’s by tens of thousands.

This comes as part of a plan to tackle imprecise international migration data after it was found that existing methods of data collection used by the ONS led to a severe overestimation of the number of students who overstay their visa.

Student migration is one of the main areas the investigation will focus on alongside impacts of migration on the labour market, impacts on housing and local impacts of migration on population growth.

The report, released on February 23, states that the main goal “is to understand what former international student immigrants do when they complete their studies.” To achieve this the ONS will introduce a new online student survey.

The ONS has announced that it will work together with different government departments to evaluate the current measuring methods. Currently one of the main tools to gather data about international students is the International Passenger Survey (IPS), which collects information about passengers entering and leaving the UK.

It has been questioned in the past whether the IPS is the right means to gather data about student migration. A study by the Institute For Public Policy Research found that the results of the IPS have overestimated the number of students who overstay their visa by tens of thousands compared to numbers published by the Home Office.

This, they argue, lead to a strategy targeting immigration that harmed the education sector. James Pitman, from Study Group, a company that helps international students with studying abroad, criticised the IPS in an interview with PIE News: “Potentially erroneous ONS statistics based on spurious IPS data arguably fuelled a government crackdown on student visas that continues to damage our universities and our economy.”

According to the ONS, Brexit is one of the reasons why they’ve decided to review the student migration statistics. Emma Rourke, ONS Director for Public Policy Analysis, stated in September 2016:

“The demand for more detailed information on international student numbers has increased as migration policy has become a prominent area of debate during recent years, and particularly in the context of the result of the referendum on EU membership.”

The ONS has announced to publish an update on their investigation by mid-2017.

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Marie Segger

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