Under new immigration restrictions, international postgraduate students enrolled in non-research degrees will no longer be permitted to bring family members to the UK.
Two days before official data are anticipated to show that legal migration has reached a record 700,000 this year, the announcement was made.
Nearly nine times as many dependents of international students received visas in 2018—135,788—than they will this year.
Ministers were informed by PM Rishi Sunak that the action will help reduce migration.
According to No. 10, he informed the cabinet that the modification, which will take effect in January 2024, will “significantly change the numbers.”
However, as students and family members who visit the UK for less than a year are not counted, it is unclear what effect it will have on official migration levels.
Last week, he said that ministers were “considering a range of options” to reduce migration, but he would not specify what amount was appropriate.
Prior to the 2019 election, the Conservatives abandoned their pledge to reduce net migration to below 100,000 annually after continuously failing to do so.
According to the notification, postgraduate students’ partners and kids who are not enrolled in research programs or courses are no longer eligible to apply to live in the UK while they are taking the degree.
Last year, 135,788 visas were issued to dependents, more than seven times the 19,139 that were issued in 2020 and up from 54,486 in 2021.
Since the European Economic Area (EEA) students’ study visa requirements were implemented following Brexit, these numbers have risen.
Since rules were modified in 2019 to permit international students to remain in the UK for two years after graduating to hunt for jobs, applications have also increased.
The increase in dependents receiving visas was described as “unprecedented” by Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who added that it was “time for us to tighten up this route to ensure we can cut migration numbers.”
She further stated in a statement to Parliament that the action “strikes the right balance” between reducing immigration and “protecting the economic benefits that students can bring to the UK”.
Going farther and possibly forbidding the dependents of all postgraduate students, including those enrolled on research courses, caused disagreement within the government.
However, several ministers maintained they were based in the UK for a longer period of time and offered larger economic benefits, notably Education Secretary Gillian Keegan.
Two Nigerian students at Wolverhampton University were interviewed by the BBC.
Rotimi, a mechanical engineering master’s student, claims he comprehends why politicians could wish to lower immigration levels.
However, he continues, most students who come to the UK to study “look beyond studying” and want their families to be “part of that experience.”
Without a method for international students to bring their families, according to him, “most people won’t even consider leaving” or may decide to pursue their education elsewhere.
Titilope does not fall under the group of students who are allowed to bring dependents to the UK because she is an undergraduate taking a programme in mental health nursing.
She claims, however, that enabling students to bring family around allows them to concentrate on their academics without worrying about whether “they have money, or if they are okay.”
“At the same time, you are aware of your family’s presence. It’s always preferable to discuss things out with your family while you’re going through a difficult moment. You no longer feel so isolated.
The umbrella organization for British universities, Universities UK (UUK), acknowledged that the “substantial” increase in dependent visas has occasionally resulted in “local challenges” regarding family housing and educational opportunities.
Jamie Arrowsmith, the director of UUK’s international branch, said that given this, “some targeted measures to mitigate this rise may be reasonable.”
He said the changes were “likely to have a disproportionate impact on women and students from certain countries” and urged the government to engage with universities to evaluate their effects.
University staff’s union, the University and College Union (UCU), described it as a “vindictive move” that had caused “deep concern” in the industry.
According to its general secretary Jo Grady, those who accompany international students to the UK “bring enormous value to our society and deserve the right to live alongside their loved ones while they study.”
In the UK in 2021–2022, there were 679,970 international students, according to HESA, a provider of educational data.
Of these, 307,470 were undergraduate students, who are already prohibited from bringing family members to the UK while enrolled in classes.
There were 372,500 postgraduate students, and 46,350 of them are enrolled in research courses; the bulk of them are pursuing PhDs, but there are also a few students pursuing research-based master’s degrees.
Students entering the UK on a visa must show proof of their link to dependents, who must pay £490 for a visa, in order to enter.
Dependents must also pay the immigration health surcharge, which amounts to an annual NHS service fee of between £470 and £624 per dependent.
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