The United Kingdom has banned foreign students studying for master’s degrees from bringing their family members to the country. This announcement has been made two days before the release of official statistics for legal migration which is expected to hit a record 700,000 in 2023.
On Tuesday, UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman unveiled a package of new restrictions on foreign students aimed at helping to reduce net migration to ‘sustainable levels’. Following are the propositions made by Braverman:
Foreign students will be banned from bringing dependents to Britain with them unless they are on postgraduate research programmes.
Foreign students will no longer be able to switch out of the student route into work routes for staying in the UK before their studies have been completed.
Efforts will be made to clamp down on ‘unscrupulous education agents who may be supporting inappropriate applications to sell immigration, not education’.
In 2022, a record 135,788 visas were granted to dependents of foreign students – almost nine times the figure for 2019, according to The Star.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently said that the legal migration levels were too high; he also said his cabinet ministers were “considering a range of options” to bring migration down, but refused to put a precise figure on future acceptable levels.
The conservations had previously promised to bring net migration below 100,000 a year, but ditched the target ahead of the 2019 election after repeatedly failing to meet it, as per a report on the BBC.
As per the latest rule, partners and children of graduate students other than those studying on courses designated as research programmes will no longer be allowed to apply to live in the UK during the course.
In her statement, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said that the rise in dependents being granted visas was “unprecedented”, adding that it was “time for us to tighten up this route to ensure we can cut migration numbers”.
She added that the move “strikes the right balance” between bringing down migration and “protecting the economic benefits that students can bring to the UK”.
The Prime Minister told cabinet ministers the change, which will come into effect in January 2024, would make a “significant difference” to net migration numbers.
As per the current rules, students coming to the UK with a visa need to provide documents proving their relationship to dependents, who have to pay £490 for a visa. Dependents are also required to pay the immigration health surcharge – an annual contribution between £470 and £624 towards NHS services.
In 2022, Nigeria topped the in number of dependents (60,923) of sponsored study visa holders, while India had the second highest number of dependents (38,990).
There were almost 120,000 dependent visas granted to the top five nationalities of Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka last year.
Mrs Braverman, in a written ministerial statement, acknowledged that there had been an ‘unexpected rise’ in the number of dependents 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 contribution students can bring to the UK, but this should not be at the expense of our commitment to the public to lower overall migration and ensure that migration to the UK is highly skilled and therefore provides the most benefit.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Rishi Sunak believed the action on dependents of foreign students would make a ‘significant difference’ in reducing net migration.
He also defended a decision to keep the rule allowing graduates to work for two years in the UK after completing their postgraduate courses.
“It is right that we recognise that it is of benefit to the UK that our student sector is extremely competitive,” the spokesman said.