Foreign postgraduate students pursuing non-research courses in the UK will face new immigration curbs that prevent them from bringing their family members along. This announcement comes just days before official statistics reveal a record-breaking 700,000 legal migrations this year.
Increased Dependents Visa Grant: A Growing Concern
In 2022, a staggering 135,788 visas were granted to dependents of foreign students, almost nine times the number granted in 2019. This significant increase in visa grants has prompted Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to take action to address the rising migration numbers.
The Change to Begin in January 2024
According to No 10, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak shared his plans with the cabinet, stating that the new immigration restrictions, effective from January 2024, will make a significant difference in reducing the migration numbers. However, the precise impact on official migration levels remains uncertain as students and their families who stay in the UK for less than a year are not included in the count.
Striving for Acceptable Migration Levels
Last week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak mentioned that the government was actively exploring various options to decrease migration but did not disclose the specific threshold for an acceptable level. The Conservative party had previously pledged to bring net migration below 100,000 per year. However, they abandoned this target ahead of the 2019 election due to their inability to consistently meet it.
Restricting Dependents of Non-Research Postgraduate Students
Under the new immigration restrictions, family members, including partners and children, of postgraduate students enrolled in non-research programs will no longer be eligible to apply for residency in the UK while the course is ongoing.
Surge in Visa Grants to Dependents
The number of visas granted to dependents reached 135,788 in 2022, a significant rise compared to 54,486 in 2021 and more than seven times the 19,139 granted in 2020. This increase is primarily attributed to the introduction of study visa requirements for European Economic Area (EEA) students post-Brexit. Additionally, changes made in 2019, allowing foreign students to stay in the UK for two years after graduation to seek employment, have contributed to the surge in dependent visa applications.
Tightening the Route to Reduce Migration Numbers
Home Secretary Suella Braverman expressed concern over the unprecedented rise in dependent visa grants, emphasising the need to curb migration numbers. She argued that it was necessary to tighten the immigration route for dependents while still preserving the economic benefits that students bring to the UK.
Striking a Balance
During her statement to Parliament, Home Secretary Suella Braverman emphasised that the new immigration measures strike the right balance between reducing migration numbers and safeguarding the economic advantages associated with international students studying in the UK.
Divisions within Government
There were internal disagreements within the government about the extent of the immigration restrictions. Some ministers, including Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, advocated for a complete ban on dependents of all postgraduate students, irrespective of their course type. They argued that these students resided in the UK for longer periods and contributed more substantially to the economy.
In conclusion, the UK government’s new immigration curbs will prevent non-research postgraduate students from bringing their family members to the country. These measures aim to reduce migration numbers while striking a balance between curbing immigration and preserving the economic benefits associated with international students. The impact on migration levels remains uncertain, and the government continues to explore various avenues to achieve an acceptable level of migration in the country.