FOREIGN students are not viewed as immigrants by the majority of the British public, according to a survey.
The poll conducted for Universities UK found less than a quarter of adults think of international students (24%) or EU students (23%) coming to study in this country as immigrants.
It emerged last week that universities could face new restrictions on recruiting overseas students.
The question of whether those arriving in Britain to study should be removed from the official net migration figures has repeatedly come under scrutiny.
The survey of 2,018 British adults found that 18% of respondents would like to see the number of international students in the UK increase, 44% said it should stay the same, while 21% supported a reduction.
Two-thirds agreed that international students have a positive impact on the local economies of the towns and cities that they study in, and three in five (59%) agreed that their economic contribution helps create jobs.
The poll also indicated that seven in ten adults believe it is better if international students use their skills here and work in the UK for a period of time in order to contribute to the economy rather than returning immediately to their home country after completing their study.
Almost half (47%) of those polled believed there should be no limit on how long international students should be able to stay and work in the UK after they have completed their study, providing they are employed and contributing to the economy.
Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: “These findings are a clear indication that any new policies aimed at lowering net migration figures by reducing the number of overseas students will not address public concerns over immigration.
“International students come to the UK, are welcomed by British people, study for a period, and then the overwhelming majority go home after their studies.”
Universities UK is the representative organisation for the country’s universities. The body says international students are currently worth over £10.7 billion to the economy.
Last month Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill said any attempt to “fiddle” immigration figures by taking students out of them would be a “let down” to the British public.
Long-term immigration to the UK for study was estimated to be 164,000 in total in the year to the end of March, the lowest level since 2007.
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