The British government today rejected an appeal by nearly 70 top university heads to review changes to the student visa regime that is likely to put off students from India and other non-EU countries from coming to the UK.
In a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, the university heads noted the economic and other contributions made by international students, and said Britain stood to lose out on the highly competitive international student market unless the recent changes were reviewed.
The university heads said: "In particular we request that international university students be removed from the net migration statistics for policy purposes, bringing us into line with our major competitors".
They added: "We believe that this would help government by creating a clear differentiation between temporary and permanent migration, help universities whose international character is essential to their future success, and help the UK by contributing to economic growth".
Students comprise a major component of overall annual immigration figures.
The recent curbs on student visas are intended to reduce the number of international students as well as prevent abuse, but critics of the curbs say students should not be counted as immigrants since their stay is temporary.
Immigration minister Damian Green, who last week said there had been a 62 per cent fall in student visas issued in the first quarter of 2012, rejected the contention in the letter to Cameron, and said: "Public confidence in statistics will not be enhanced by revising the way the net migration numbers are presented by removing students."
"Students coming to the UK for over a year are not visitors — numbers affect communities, public services and infrastructure.
"The independent Office for National Statistics is responsible for producing net migration statistics according to the internationally agreed definition of a migrant which is someone entering the country for more than a year," he added.