A new report from the Institute for Public Policy Research, IPPR, suggests that the UK Home Office could be targeting non-existent international students in an effort to reduce net migration.

According to the report, the government is looking toward “highly questionable data” that states international students who remain the country after completing their schooling account for the majority of net migration.  In addition, the IPPR states that while ministers say around 90,000 non-EU students stay in the country after completing their course of study, other sources suggest that number is actually much lower, writes Ellie Bothwell for Times Higher Education.

Home Office visa figures show close to 40,000 non-EU students who arrived in the country using a student visa are still in the country five years later.  The Annual Population Survey found similar results, with between 30,000 and 40,000 non-EU immigrants originally arriving in the country as students five years before.  The Higher Education Statistics Agency’s Destination of Leavers from Higher Education Survey note that 75% of non-EU students who have found employment six months after graduation were working outside the UK.

“While each of these data sources measures slightly different things and has its own methodological limitations, the large discrepancy between the other sources’ figures and that of the IPS suggests that the latter’s 90,000 figure is not reliable enough to be used as a guide for policy,” the IPPR said.

Meanwhile, the number of international students entering the UK have continued to drop over the last six years, while the number enrolling in UK higher education institutions has plateaued, reports Judith Burns for the BBC.

Marley Morris, a research fellow at IPPR, believes the numbers are dropping as a result of efforts made by the government to decrease net migration to the tens of thousands.  “Our research suggests that many of the students they are targeting may be phantom students who are no longer in the country.”

Morris went on to suggest that after the Brexit vote, the government should be putting more effort into investing in the UK.  Calling the current policy “self-destructive,” he said that it is causing potential international students to shy away from studying in the UK, causing the country to lose out on billions of pounds.

The report, “Destination Education: Reforming migration policy on international students to grow the UK’s vital education exports,” suggests that because the government is using unreliable information, measures have been taken that have caused damage to the reputation of the UK among international students.  These measures include doing away with the post-study work visa.

The report recommends that students should not be included in net migration figures and that the UK should adopt a 10-year plan in an effort to increase its international education sector in a similar fashion to how Australia has proceeded.  It continues to say that the plan could be lead by a new minister for international education and could include a reintroduction of the post-study work visa for STEM and nursing graduates.  Doing so would allow students with a visa to apply for a graduate job, with no salary threshold, for up to 12 months after graduation.