Author: Robbie Meredith
Northern Ireland’s universities are opposed to international students being part of targets to reduce immigration.
That is according to a submission from the Department for the Economy (DfE) to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).
However, a report by the MAC has said that international students should not be removed from immigration targets.
The government commissioned the committee to report on the impact of international students in the UK.
The DfE submission said that Northern Ireland’s political past had a negative impact on students coming to Northern Ireland to study as it “led to a lower share of the international student market than would otherwise have been the case”.
Around 5% of around 55,000 students in Northern Ireland are from non-EU or EU countries outside the UK or Republic of Ireland.
However, only 1% of all international students studying in the UK are enrolled in universities in NI.
‘International students should be able to remain’
The DfE submission said that as the average salary of newly-qualified graduates in Northern Ireland was lower on average than in the rest of the UK, it could be difficult for international students to transfer from a student visa to a work visa at the end of their studies.
This, DfE said had “a knock-on effect on the ability of Northern Ireland institutions to attract their share of international students in the first place”.
“This is exacerbated further by the attractive visa arrangements in the Republic of Ireland which enable students to remain for up to 24 months post study for the purposes of seeking employment,” it said.
However, the MAC rejected a proposal for a separate post-study work visa for students similar to that operating in the Republic of Ireland.
Universities UK had suggested that international students should be able to remain and work in the UK for two years after graduation.
“Whilst the higher and further education sectors in Northern Ireland recognise the need for controls in immigration, they are of the view that international students should not be part of any immigration target,” the DfE submission concluded.
“They are very clear that international students and international partnerships have a critical part to play in the sustainability and development of our institutions.”
The submission also said that both universities were seeking to expand their international student numbers.
A previous report published earlier this year said that international students were worth around £170m to the Northern Irish economy.