Students must be lifted out of net migration targets, say MPs

Lizzy Buchan

​MPs have called for students to be lifted out of the government's net migration target amid warnings of the risk of "economic stagnation" for parts of the UK.

The Scottish Affairs Committee also urged ministers to review the controversial pledge to slash the number of immigrants to the "tens of thousands".

It comes after Sajid Javid, the home secretary, failed to endorse the target when grilled by a parliamentary committee, when he smirked and simply replied, "next question", when asked if he wanted to ditch it.

The Independent has been campaigning to drop the target with the group Open Britain, urging the government to abandon its goal to reduce net migration to under 100,000.

The cross-party committee was looking at how Scotland could increase its share of UK migrants, as it has suffered in the past from population decline and poor economic growth.

SNP committee chairman Pete Wishart said: "The current visa system for non-EU workers is complicated and bureaucratic, and the way the current net migration target is enforced benefits London to the expense of the rest of the country.

"Scotland's future population growth is entirely dependent on continued inward migration and it appears that Scotland's needs are not being fully met under the current system."

"Nobody wants to see a return to the dark days of population decline and economic stagnation," Mr Wishart added.

The report urges ministers to review options for greater regional differentiation in immigration and to probe how the visa cap operates to ensure it does not disproportionately benefit London and the south east.

It calls for the government to consider a Scotland-specific post-study work visa scheme, in the absence of a UK-wide scheme.

MPs also condemned the bureaucracy in the current points-based immigration system, saying it needs "substantial reform and simplification if it is to be able to provide a suitable basis for replacing freedom of movement".

Mr Javid came under fire from the home affairs committee over the eight-year-old Conservative pledge to bring down immigration, which has never been met.

Asked if the target was an objective of the post-Brexit migration system, Mr Javid said: “It will be an objective of the post-Brexit migration system to bring down immigration, in the long term, to sustainable levels”.

UK news in pictures

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The 2017 Tory manifesto made it an “objective” to meet the target but during the general election campaign Ms May said she “would be working” to achieve the target by 2022.