By Gavin Mackintosh-
International students who come to the UK will no longer be able to bring family with them except under specific circumstances in a government bid to bring immigration down.
Under new rules, foreign students will no longer be able to bring dependants with them unless they are on postgraduate courses that are currently designated as research programmes.
The package will also remove the ability for international students to switch out of the student route and into work routes before their studies have been completed “to prevent misuse of the visa system”, the government said.
The British government will also review of the maintenance requirement for students and dependents and a crackdown on “unscrupulous” education agents “who make use of inappropriate applications to sell immigration, not education”.
The ONS estimated that net migration was over 500,000 from June 2021 to June 2022. Although partly attributed to the rise in temporary factors, such as the UK’s Ukraine and Hong Kong schemes, last year almost half a million student visas were issued while the number of dependants of overseas students has increased by 750% since 2019, to 136,000 people.
ere were 135,788 visas granted to dependants – such as partners or children – of foreign students over the 12 months.
This was a more than eight-fold increase from the 16,047 visas granted to dependants in 2019.
Nigeria had the highest number of dependants (60,923) of sponsored study visa holders in 2022, while India had the second highest number of dependants (38,990).
There were almost 120,000 dependant visas granted to the top five nationalities of Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka last year.
The Home Office has suggested the growth in study related visas granted to dependants could be because a greater number of older students are coming to Britain.
In a written ministerial statement – in which she unveiled the new restrictions on foreign students – Mrs Braverman today acknowledged there had been an ‘unexpected rise’ in the number of dependants coming to the UK alongside international students over recent years.
She added: ‘This does not detract from the considerable success that the Government and the higher education sector have had in achieving the goals from our International Education Strategy, meeting our target to host 600,000 international students studying in the UK per year by 2030, for two years running, and earlier than planned – a success story in terms of economic value and exports.
‘The International Education Strategy plays an important part in supporting the economy through the economic con
The government has also reaffirmed its commitment to the International Education Strategy which plays an important part in supporting the economy through the economic contribution students can bring to the UK.
However, this should not be at the expense of the government’s commitment to the public to lower overall migration and ensure that migration to the UK is highly skilled and provides the most benefit.
Today’s proposals to the student visa route allow the government to continue to meet its International Education Strategy commitments, while making a tangible contribution to reducing net migration to sustainable levels. The government has also made clear that the terms of the graduate route remain unchanged.
The changes will come into effect for students starting their courses from January 2024 in order to allow future international students time to plan ahead.
In the year ending December 2022, 486,000 student visas were issued to applicants – up from 269,000 in 2019.
Last year, the number of student visas issued to dependants stood at 136,000 – an eightfold increase from 2019, when 16,000 were provided.
In a written ministerial statement, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said recent immigration figures had shown an “unexpected rise” in the number of dependants coming to the UK alongside international students.
Ms Braverman said the increase was made after the government made its commitment to lower net migration.
In 2019, when net migration stood at 226,000, the Conservative manifesto committed to making sure “overall numbers come down”.
Ms Braverman said while the government’s strategy around international education “plays an important part in supporting the economy”, it should “not be at the expense of our commitment to the public to lower overall migration”.
“This package strikes the right balance between acting decisively on tackling net migration and protecting the economic benefits that students can bring to the UK,” she said.
“Now is the time for us to make these changes to ensure an impact on net migration as soon as possible. We expect this package to have a tangible impact on net migration. Taken together with the easing of temporary factors, we expect net migration to fall to pre-pandemic levels in the medium term.”
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said attracting top students “isn’t just good for our universities – it’s essential for our economy and building vital global relationships”.
“But the number of family members being brought to the UK by students has risen significantly,” she added.
“It is right we are taking action to reduce this number while maintaining a commitment to our international education strategy, which continues to enrich the UK’s education sector and make a significant contribution to the wider economy.”
The announcement comes as the government comes under mounting pressure over migration figures – an issue that has reportedly caused splits in the cabinet.
Official statistics due to be published later this week are expected to show that net migration has increased from 504,000 in the 12 months to June 2022 to more than 700,000 in the year to December.
Ms Braverman recently made a speech at the National Conservatism Conference in which she said the UK needed to “get overall immigration numbers down”, adding: “We mustn’t forget how to do things for ourselves.”
Ms Braverman is reported to have faced pushback in recent weeks from some cabinet colleagues, including Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Ms Keegan, who are said to have been appealing for more visas for students and workers in certain sectors to boost economic growth and continue to plug the gaps left in the labour market.
The home secretary is also coming under fire over claims she asked civil servants to arrange a private awareness course after she was caught speeding last year – a move critics claim could amount to a breach of the ministerial code.
Raising an urgent question in the House of Commons, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said there were “serious questions to answer” regarding Ms Braverman, adding: “How many strikes before she’s out?”