The UK government has announced that international students, including Indians, will no longer be able to bring family members over. This is part of measures to bring down annual net migration, which reached a record in 2022.
The new changes to the student visa route will apply to overseas master’s students at British universities. However, it will not affect international students on postgraduate research routes such as PhDs, whose training often lasts between three to five years. The changes are set to come into effect in January 2024.
In a written statement to the House of Commons, Suella Braverman said that only international students on postgraduate courses currently designated as research programmes will be allowed to bring in their family members, including children and elderly parents, as their dependants. The current graduate visa rules state that master’s students can bring their partners and children to the UK with them. They can stay for 24 months after their courses finish.
The Home Secretary’s statement noted: “This package includes: removing the right for international students to bring dependants unless they are on postgraduate courses currently designated as research programmes.” The other new measures include removing the ability for international students to switch from the student route to work routes before their studies have been completed and reviewing the maintenance requirements for students and dependants.
Ms Braverman said: “We have seen an unprecedented rise in the number of student dependants being brought into the country with visas. It is time for us to tighten up this route to ensure we can cut migration numbers and meet the government’s pledge to the British people to cut net migration.
“This is the fair thing to do to allow us to better protect our public services, while supporting the economy by allowing the students who contribute the most to keep coming here.” She also pledged a crackdown on untrustworthy education agents who may be supporting inappropriate applications to sell immigration, not education.
Ms Braverman continued: “The terms of the graduate route remain unchanged… We are committed to attracting the brightest and the best to the UK. Therefore, our intention is to work with universities over the course of the next year to design an alternative approach that ensures that the best and the brightest students can bring dependants to our world-leading universities while continuing to reduce net migration.”
The move comes amid record-high immigration in the UK, with over 370,000 Indian nationals residing. When it comes to international students, India is the second non-EU country with the most students studying in the UK, with a total of 126,535.
In the year ending December 2022, approximately 136,000 visas were granted to dependants, a massive increase from 16,000 in 2019. The immigration crackdown was expected as reports have indicated that the UK’s latest net migration figures will show a massive rise from 504,000 between June 2021 and 2022 despite a Conservative Party-led government pledge to bring down immigration in the wake of Brexit.
Jamie Arrowsmith, Director of Universities UK International (UUKI), said: “While the vast majority of students will be unaffected by proposals that limit the ability to be accompanied by dependants, more information is needed on the programmes that are in scope before a proper assessment of the impact can be made.
“Yet we do know that any changes are likely to have a disproportionate impact on women and students from certain countries. We, therefore, urge the government to work with the sector to limit and monitor the impact on particular groups of students and on universities, which are already under serious financial pressures.”
The UUKI welcomed confirmation that the new Graduate route visa will remain open and competitive. International students, including Indians, contribute nearly 10 times more to the UK economy than they take out.
It is revealed that students have caused the sudden increase in migration post-Covid, with a rise of 81% since 2019. According to Financial Times, Nigerian and Indian students are especially more likely to bring family with them, with 135,788 visas granted to dependants in 2022, up from 16,047 in 2019.
In terms of the number of dependants arriving in the UK, Nigerians rank the highest followed by Indians. The changes to the student visa route do not detract from the success of the government’s International Education Strategy, including meeting the target to host 600,000 international higher education students studying in the UK each year by 2030.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: “Attracting the top students from around the world isn’t just good for our universities – it’s essential for our economy and building vital global relationships.” However, she added that the number of family members being brought to the UK by students has risen significantly.