By Ian Dunt
The chairmen of five parliamentary committees have teamed up to demand David Cameron removes international students from the net migration statistics.
The dramatic move comes after a House of Lords EU sub-committee on home affairs became the fifth committee of parliament to recommend the move, amid heightened anxiety about its effect on the UK economy.
"We believe this degree of consensus between committees of the House is unprecedented," a letter signed by the chairmen reads.
"In advance of your forthcoming visit to India, where applications to UK universities have been particularly badly affected, we are therefore writing to you to ask you to reconcile the remaining tensions between visa policy and aspirations for growth by removing international university students from the net migration target."
International student numbers are a relatively easily factor to control in immigration and experts warn the government will be tempted to focus its effort on them in order to get numbers down to Cameron's promised "tens of thousands".
But international students are a profitable source of revenue for UK universities and those who stay after their studies often end up starting businesses and creating jobs.
The reduction in their numbers is also likely to hurt long-term economic growth, reduce jobs in university towns and hit export earnings.
Business secretary Vince Cable has been a cheerleader for efforts to separate overseas students from the headline immigration figure, but moves to clamp down on student visas have already had a damaging effect internationally.
The Home Office cancelled London Metropolitan University's licence to sponsor overseas students last year, leaving thousands of newly-arrived students unable to start their studies.
The row was only reported in passing in the UK press but it received much more attention overseas, with many analysts worrying it would have a severe effect on international applications to British colleges.
The letter to the prime minister was signed by Adrian Bailey, chairman of the business committee, Margaret Hodge, chairman of the public accounts committee, Keith Vaz, chairman of the home affairs committee, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, chairman of the Lords EU sub-committee on home affairs and Lord Krebs, chairman of the Lords committee on science and technology.
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By Ian Dunt
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