The government announcement that it will relax conditions on student visas is a step in the wrong direction for UK immigration policy.
It has proposed increasing the number of foreign students from 460,000 to 600,000 by 2030. It also wants to extend the period which foreign students can stay in the UK after they finish their studies from 4 months to 2 years. This change may open the door for foreign students to apply for UK citizenship on the basis of 5-year residency.
These figures do not include EU students who are classified as Home Students while the UK is still stuck in the EU. There are currently around 140,000 EU students studying in the UK.
Net immigration into the UK has been running at around 300,000 for the last five years, despite pledges from both Cameron and May to reduce it to below 100,000. This is just the official figure however: conservative estimates suggest that there are another 150,000 per year entering the UK illegally on lorries, dinghies and the like, or people arriving on buses and flights from EU countries who are waved through immigration without being properly checked and counted.
The mass, rapid immigration of the Blair/Brown/Cameron/May years has led to a crisis in housing, and huge pressures on the NHS and schools, as well as overcrowding on public transport systems. Relaxing student visa criteria will add to the problem.
The right approach to take is to freeze or slightly reduce the intake of foreign students, while pivoting to train more British young people for the jobs that are available, rather than relying on foreign students to fill skills gaps which have formed because British young people have been neglected.
Brexit offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make the UK a nation which is self-sufficient in skills, while returning to a sensible, balanced level of net immigration. The government should think again about relaxing student visas.