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Our analysis suggests that there are three main ways a compromise might take place.

  • First, as reported by the Daily Telegraph today, it could involve limits on EU migrants coming to the UK to work without a job offer. However, this option would be highly difficult to implement, given the ease of circumventing these rules. Migrants could, for instance, visit the UK as tourists and secure work, then return home and re-enter the UK with a job offer. It would also be unlikely to significantly reduce migration flows, given many EU migrants have a definite job to go to before they arrive;
  • A second option could involve limits on low-skilled workers from the EU and free movement for other groups. However, this is unlikely to elicit a positive deal from the EU, who see free movement for all EU citizens as a fundamental right;
  • Third, a compromise could involve an ‘emergency brake’ on EU migration in certain sectors and regions. This is our preferred position and is most likely to be implementable and negotiable.

Given these challenges with EU free movement, reports suggest that the Prime Minister is considering a further crackdown on non-EU students to reduce net migration. However, new analysis by IPPR out today suggests that the government may be seriously overestimating the number of non-EU students staying in the UK after finishing their courses. This means that an approach to net migration relying on restricting student numbers could be futile in controlling migration, as well as damaging to the education sector and the wider economy.

Marley Morris, IPPR Research Fellow in Migration, said:

“Theresa May is under pressure to reduce net migration after the EU referendum result. There’s no doubt restricting EU free movement will be hard to negotiate if we want to retain close trade links with the EU.

“But if she’s tempted to seek a way out of this problem by clamping down on international students, that would be a costly mistake. It would harm our economy, fail to meet public concerns, and, based on our new analysis, rely on a dubious interpretation of the official statistics.”


Notes to Editors:

1. IPPR's new report 'Destination education: Reforming migration policy on international students to grow the UK's vital education exports', can be found here at

2. IPPR aims to influence policy in the present and reinvent progressive politics in the future, and is dedicated to the better country that Britain can be through progressive policy and politics. With nearly 60 staff across four offices throughout the UK, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence.

Our independent research is wide ranging, it covers the economy, work, skills, transport, democracy, the environment, education, energy, migration and healthcare among many other areas.