I do not think there has been any attempt to sweep that under the carpet. There was an urgent question in the House on the matter—I think it was the week before last—and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman raised his point then, but he knows as well as I do that his question is best addressed to the Cabinet Office, which is responsible for elections, not me as the Immigration Minister.
Alongside the White Paper on the future borders and immigration system that we published last year, the borders, immigration and citizenship system continues to deliver, to secure the UK border, control immigration and provide world-class services that contribute to our prosperity.
Stuart C. McDonald talked with regret about the immigration system, but it is worth reminding the House of some salient points about its successes. In the year to March, more people came to the UK, with 142.8 million passengers arriving here; the number of visitor visas granted was at a record high of 2.3 million, an increase of 9%; 181,000 people were given entry clearance to come to work in the UK and bolster the UK’s economy; 358,000 students came to the UK to study; over 5,700 people were provided with protection and support through our four UK resettlement schemes; over 5,600 family reunion visas were issued, over 2,700 of which were for children; and 89,000 people were granted settlement, with 149,000 granted British citizenship.
The majority of the people I have referred to engage with the immigration system in a smooth way. They are contributing to the growth of tourism and our economy, attending our world-leading universities and enriching our culture. I do not believe that there is any great difference in aspiration between the Scottish National party and the UK Government on the topic of students. We both recognise that international students make a huge contribution to our educational institutions socially, academically and financially. We want our education sector to flourish and to see ever increasing numbers of international students coming to the UK. Indeed, the Government have set an ambition of increasing the number of international students in higher education to 600,000 by 2030.
Where there may be a difference is that the Government are keen to share our successes and send the message that the UK is welcoming, while the SNP sadly seems determined to convey a sense of gloom. I am pleased to say that the facts support the Government’s position. The number of visa applications to study at the UK’s universities increased by 10% last year, to the highest number ever recorded, and visa application numbers are 27% higher than they were in 2011. There are close to half a million international students studying in the UK, and we continue to be the second most popular destination in the world for them. I hope that SNP Members will join in celebrating that success.
While we are on the subject of facts, I note that the motion calls for a policy “based on evidence”. The House will be aware that last year the Migration Advisory Committee—the Government’s expert, non-partisan advisers on immigration matters—carried out a detailed study into international students. The MAC took evidence from a wide variety of stakeholders representing every part of the United Kingdom, including Scotland. As the MAC indicates, 140 written responses were submitted to its call for evidence. This is absolutely evidence-based policy making.