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UK immigration continues to fall as overseas student numbers shrink

Government could still meet its net migration target by the 2015 election

Immigration levels into Britain are continuing to fall following a sharp decline in numbers of overseas students coming to this country, the Office for National Statistics has said.

A net flow of 153,000 migrants arrived in the UK in the 12 months to the end of September, a drop of 89,000 since the same period a year earlier.

The rate of the fall suggests David Cameron could achieve, or be close to, his promise to reduce net migration to tens of thousands by the time of the next general election due in May 2015.

Numbers of foreign students were down by 56,000 and numbers of people coming on family visas were down by 18,000.

Overall the number of new arrivals dropped from 581,000 to 500,000 and the number of people leaving the country rose slightly from 339,000 to 347,000.

Net migration has now dropped by more than one-third from a high in mid-2010 and is now at its lowest level for a decade.

Mark Harper, the Immigration Minister, said the statistics demonstrated the Government was “continuing to bring immigration back under control”.

He added: “They show we have cut out abuse while encouraging the brightest and best migrants who contribute to economic growth, with a five per cent increase in the number of sponsored student visa applications for our world-class universities and a five per cent increase in the number of visas issued to skilled workers.”

Sarah Mulley, an associate director at the Institute for Public Policy Research, said: “The Government’s progress towards its target of reducing net migration to less than 100,000 by 2015 is still in large part being driven by falling numbers of international students.

“This decline in international student numbers comes at considerable economic cost to the UK at a time when we can ill afford it.

“In any case, falling student numbers will not help the Government meet its target in the medium term.

“Because most students stay in the UK only for a short time, reduced immigration now will mean reduced emigration in the future, which by 2015 could partially reverse the falls in net migration we are seeing now.”