Campaigners are calling on people to ‘stand up don’t be counted’. Wait, what…?

Stand Up Don't Be Counted
Steve Topple

On Tuesday 13 February, campaigners demonstrated in central London. Their call-to-action? “Stand up don’t be counted.” And while this may sound like an odd request, when you realise what people are calling for it makes perfect sense.

Stand up and what…?

Successive Conservative-led governments have called for a net migration target in the tens of thousands. ‘Net migration’ means the number of people entering the UK, minus the number of people leaving. While net migration fell after the Brexit vote, Theresa May’s government is still pushing through legislation on it via an immigration White Paper.

And people are angry about this.

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So far, the government has flip-flopped over whether international students studying in the UK should be included in this figure. So on 13 February, a rally led by business group London First was held at Torrington Square. It was making some noise about the issue, which could potentially affect over 400,000 students a year:

Cross-party support

The group is calling on the PM to exclude international students from net migration targets. It claims that:

International students contribute a huge amount to the UK economy, generating up to £20bn a year for the economy and supporting [pdf] over 200,000 jobs. In London alone, international students generate a net benefit of £2.3 billion each year and support 70,000 jobs [pdf]. This makes higher education one of the UK’s most successful exports.

The rally got cross-party support from Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley, Lib Dem leader Vince Cable, and Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn Tulip Siddiq. But the issue of international students has caused friction within the Conservative Party, too.

As The Guardian reported, some “high-profile Tory rebels” – including Nicky Morgan, Tom Tugendhat and Bob Neill – disagree with the government’s stance. Now, it would appear May might be preparing to backtrack on the issue if the government is defeated in a Commons vote on it.

Don’t ‘go home’…!

But speaking to The Canary, Bartley made a broader point about the net migration target. He said:

Including international students in the net migration target sends the wrong message. Students are people, not numbers, and they contribute just as much to Britain as they gain from studying here. Britain’s education system is something to be proud of. But academics and students from other countries helped to build it. We must recognise this by continuing to welcome them. That means dropping students from the net migration target as a first step towards ending the government’s hostile environment for migrants.

May didn’t have a particularly good track record on immigration when she was Home Secretary. Who can forget the controversial ‘go home’ vans, for example? And now, with a potential rebellion from inside her own party over international students, the PM has another Brexit-shaped headache looming.

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Featured image via Jonathan Bartley/Twitter

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