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Sajid Javid admits 'problem' with counting foreign students in targets to lower immigration

The home secretary has set himself on a collision course with Downing Street by questioning other parts of Theresa May's approach to immigration

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Sunday 03 June 2018 11:25 BST
Sajid Javid admits 'problem' with counting foreign students in targets to lower immigration

Home secretary Sajid Javid has admitted there is a “perception problem” with including foreign students in the government’s target to reduce net migration.

In the strongest signal yet that the current system championed by Theresa May is on its way out, Mr Javid said he empathised with concerns that it looked unwelcoming to people wanting to study in the UK.

He also diverged from Ms May's approach by confirming he would push ahead with reviewing aspects of the “hostile environment” policy and said he also sees “the problem” with visa caps limiting the number of doctors coming into the country.

In a key section of his first big television interview since taking up his job, Mr Javid was only able to offer lukewarm backing to his party’s goal of reducing net migration to the “tens of thousands” – a target The Independent is campaigning to abolish.

It puts him on a collision course with Downing Street, which has steadfastly maintained that the target surviving since Ms May's days in the Home Office will stay in place in the future.

The prime minister has been the main block to reforming aspects of government immigration policy, resisting calls for change despite them coming from almost every part of her cabinet and beyond.

Speaking to BBC 1’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Javid said he understood the arguments for lifting foreign students out of the net migration data.

Sajid Javid opposes 'hostile environment' approach to UK immigration opting instead for a 'compliant environment'

He said: “There is a perception problem around this.”

Mr Javid pointed out that as long as the students arriving leave at the end of their studies, there numbers would not have a great impact on net migration data in the long term.

But he went on: “I empathise with that point [that it could look unwelcoming] and it is something that I have long considered.

“It is not my most urgent priority when it comes to immigration – but it is something I would like to look at again.”

Ms May has fought for students to be recorded within net migration since her time at the Home Office.

As prime minister she has continued to bat away calls for change from international trade secretary Liam Fox, chancellor Philip Hammond, foreign secretary Boris Johnson and leader of the Scottish Tories Ruth Davidson.

Theresa May said in 2013 that 'Go Home' immigration vans were 'too blunt an instrument'

Mr Javid also appeared to confirm recent reports that he favours an easing on visa caps that can limit the number of medical professionals coming into the UK.

He and Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, were reported to be pushing for a temporary measure exempting doctors and nurses from any quota until more can be trained in the UK.

In his interview he said he “sees the problem” with doctors being hit by caps and said the system would be reviewed, veering away from the Downing Street script on the issue.

He immediately won support from other Tories on Twitter, with South Cambridgeshire MP Heidi Allen thanking him for his intervention, while chair of the Commons Health Committee Sarah Wollaston MP called for visa restrictions to be scrapped.

The home secretary first signalled he would begin to shift elements of the UK’s immigration policy on his first outing in the Commons, when he said he did not like using the word “hostile” to describe his approach to illegal migrants, a term used by Ms May for many years.

Following the Windrush scandal which saw some people in the UK legally, being caught up in the clampdown on illegal immigration, the whole approach was thrust into the spotlight.

Mr Javid said on Marr: “I’m going to look at how it is being implemented, I want to review aspects of the policy.

“I’ve already made some changes, I have suspended certain things. Certainly, opening bank accounts, and whether you can or cannot as an illegal immigrant, I’m not sure that the data that we have is accurate enough so I have suspended that for the time being.”

However, he said he still wanted to maintain a distinction between welcoming people in the UK who are here legally and not tolerating illegal immigration.

Mr Javid also said that overall net migration is still too high and needs to be addressed by policies to bring it down to a sustainable level.

Asked if the “tens of thousands” was still a commitment he was happy with, he said: “It is a commitment in our manifesto … we are happy with our manifesto.”

Earlier this week, Ms Davidson doubled down on her call for the “tens of thousands” target to be scrapped.

She said in a speech: “I see neither the sense nor the need to stick to an immigration figure devised nearly a decade ago, which has never been met and does not fit the requirements of the country.

“Setting an immigration target reduced to the tens of thousands is one thing when unemployment is running at 8 per cent. Refusing to review it when the country nears full employment and sectors are reporting skills shortages is quite another.”

The Independent, along with the Open Britain group, has been running the Drop the Target campaign to scrap the “tens of thousands” net migration policy.

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