Theresa May

LONDON — Theresa May’s plan to cut student immigration after Brexit adds “an additional level of madness” to her party’s immigration policy and will damage the economy, according to academic Jonathan Portes.

The Conservative Party’s general election manifesto, published yesterday, pledged to “toughen the visa requirements for students” and confirmed that overseas students will remain in the immigration statistics — meaning they will fall within scope of the government’s new policy to cut overall net immigration below 100,000.

Portes, professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London, told Business Insider: “In a market economy, the idea of targeting the net flow of people — as opposed to having a system which says some people can come and some people can’t — is central planning at its worst. The student policy just adds an additional layer of madness.”

Official figures show that 134,000 international students arrived in 2016. If Theresa May is to cut all immigration below 100,000, that figure will have to be reduced significantly. Research by Oxford Economics has found that foreign students contribute £25.8 billion to the economy annually, and support 206,000 jobs.

Portes said that the potential economic impact of the student policy was unclear, because the government has stopped short of setting a specific quota for students, but added: “It depends on what the rules are and whether they further tighten the already very unpleasant and complicated and bureaucratic systems in place.”

This is not an ideological thing, this is an obsession of the prime minister which has already damaged the economy and will continue to do so.

He said the important distinction regarding policy was not whether student numbers are included in immigration targets, but “whether it’s the government view that students are immigrants — and therefore they want fewer of them — or whether it’s the government view that the Higher Education sector is a prosperous, successful export sector, and something that we’re really good at, and that if you’re serious about global Britain, the prime minister would actually like rather more of it.”

An editorial published on Wednesday by the Evening Standard newspaper — now edited by former chancellor George Osborne — reported that no senior cabinet members privately support May’s pledge to slash immigration to the tens of thousands.

Portes, who was formerly chief economist at the Cabinet Office until 2009, said: “It’s well known that every cabinet minister that has anything to do with this [student] policy thinks it’s completely mad, for the reasons I’ve just said.

“This is a successful private export sector, which is exactly what we need. This is not an ideological thing, this is not even a party thing. It’s just an obsession of the prime minister which has already damaged the economy and doubtless will continue to do so.”

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