MPs and peers have joined together to urge David Cameron to exclude overseas students from the government's target to slash net migration.

Foreign students at London Metropolitan University (Getty)

In an unusually co-ordinated move, the chairs of five parliamentary committees have signed an open letter to the Prime Minister arguing that encouraging international students to continue to come to the UK will "support economic growth in the immediate and longer term, supporting jobs in university towns and increasing export earnings".

Signatories include the chair of the business, innovation and skills select committee, Labour MP Adrian Bailey and the Labour home affairs select committee chair Keith Vaz.

The letter has also been signed by European sub-committee on home affairs chair crossbench peer Lord Hannay of Chiswick, public accounts select committee chair, Labour MP Margaret Hodge, and science and technology committee chair, crossbench peer Professor Lord Krebs.

The government has pledged to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands by the end of this parliament.

Net migration fell to 183,000 in the year to March, with 536,000 coming to the UK in that period. Of these, 213,000 were students.

The Government says it is clamping down on bogus foreign students, increasing interviews with applicants from high-risk countries and barring more than 500 colleges from taking non-EU students.

Disincentive

Universities have condemned the crackdown, claiming it had driven large numbers of genuine applicants to choose to study in other countries. Universities UK chief executive Nicola Dandridge said earlier this moth that government rhetoric on immigration had made international students feel unwelcome.

She said universities are reporting a significant drop in the number of students applying from overseas, particularly from India, Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia.

But figures released this week by the admission body Ucas reveal that the number of applicants to UK universities from outside the EU rose 9.6 per cent between September 2012 and January this year.

The letter has been sent to the Prime Minister ahead of an expected visit to India, where applications to UK universities have fallen. It goes on: "International students who study in the UK also build relationships which last over time, laying the foundations for future business opportunities in emerging economies and supporting our foreign policy objectives."