A new survey carried out by the Institute for Public Policy Research, suggests that the government might be incorrectly targeting international students in its efforts to bring down net immigration.
Research carried out by the IPPR indicates that the number of non-EU migrants who come to the UK to study but remain five years later could be around half of what ministers claim.
Government statistics suggest that each year around 91,000 non-EU students do not leave the UK after their studies have finished.
This figure is derived from data from the International Passenger Survey, which is carried out annually by the Home Office on a sample of travellers at UK ports. During the survey arrivals who plan to stay in the UK for more than a year are asked their main reason for coming, while people leaving after a year are asked what they were doing while in the country. For students the difference between the two is around 90,000.
However, IPPR have cast doubt on this approach. Other methods have put the figure at less than half that suggested by the annual passenger survey.
In particular the Office for National Statistics annual population survey suggests between 30,000-40,000 non-EU students are still in the UK after five years.
The report therefore argued that the figure of 90,000 is not reliable enough to be used as a guide for policy. In particular there are concerns that government policy could damage the UK's reputation as a destination for international students.
The report from the PPR has urged the government to exclude students from net migration targets, set out a 10-year plan to expand international education, reintroduce post-study work visas for key professions and improve data collection on the migration patterns of international students.