The UK government has announced measures to restrict international students studying in the country from bringing their families as dependents, except under specific circumstances. These measures are intended to reduce immigration levels.
It stated that these 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 government under the new package said that it also removed 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.
According to Sky News, this was made known on Tuesday by the UK Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, who said that this is part of the mechanism to reduce net migration.
Braverman in a written statement said recent immigration figures had shown an “unexpected rise” in the number of dependants coming to the UK alongside international students.
Clampdown on unscrupulous education agents
The government said that apart from removing these privileges, it pointed out that it will also review the maintenance requirement for students and dependents as well as crackdown on “unscrupulous” education agents “who make use of inappropriate applications to sell immigration, not education”.
Changes to take effect from January 2024
The changes will come into effect for students starting their courses in January 2024 in order to allow future international students time to plan ahead.
The student visas issued to applicants increased from 269,000 in 2019 to 486,000 in the year ending December 2022.
Also, the student visas issued to dependants increased eightfold from 16,000 in 2019 to 136,000 in 2022.
Ms Braverman said the increase was made after the government made its commitment to lower net migration.
Government to strike the right balance
She 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”.
- She said, “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.
- “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.”
The Education Secretary Gillian Keegan emphasized the importance of attracting top students, highlighting its positive impact on universities, the economy, and global relationships. However, she expressed concern over the significant increase in the number of family members accompanying students to the UK.
- “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,” Keegan noted.
Government under pressure over migration
The current announcement by the Home Secretary is however, coming at a time the government has come under intense 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.”
However, Ms Braverman is reported to have faced some opposition in recent weeks from some cabinet colleagues, including Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Ms Keegan, who is 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.