The UK government has recently implemented new restrictions on student visa routes, aiming to significantly reduce net migration. These restrictions primarily focus on limiting the ability of international students to bring their family members to the UK, except for post-graduate research routes. Additionally, the government aims to prevent individuals from using student visas as a means to work in the country without proper authorisation.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the estimated net migration exceeded 500,000 individuals between June 2021 and June 2022. While temporary factors, such as the UK’s schemes for Ukraine and Hong Kong, contributed to this rise, nearly half a million student visas were issued during the same period. Furthermore, the number of dependents of overseas students has surged by a staggering 750% since 2019, reaching 136,000 people.
Despite these figures, the government remains committed to its International Education Strategy, recognising the economic benefits that international students bring to the UK. However, it is crucial to strike a balance between these benefits and the government’s obligation to reduce overall migration, ensuring that migration to the UK comprises highly skilled individuals who can provide maximum advantages to the country.
The proposed changes to the student visa route align with the government’s International Education Strategy commitments while actively contributing to the reduction of net migration to sustainable levels. It is important to note that the terms of the graduate route will remain unaffected by these reforms.
These new regulations will be enforced for students commencing their studies from January of next year. Nevertheless, the government plans to collaborate with the higher education sector to explore alternative options that would enable the brightest and most talented students to bring their dependents while studying at the UK’s world-renowned universities.
To prevent the misuse of the visa system, overseas students will no longer be able to switch from the student visa route to work routes until they have completed their studies. The government also intends to review the financial requirements for students to demonstrate their ability to support themselves and their dependents in the UK. Additionally, there will be a crackdown on unscrupulous international student agents who may be facilitating inappropriate visa applications.
When combined with the alleviation of temporary factors, these changes are expected to lead to a substantial decline in net migration over the medium term. Consequently, the adjustments to student visas strike a delicate balance by supporting the UK economy and its esteemed educational institutions while upholding the government’s commitment to reducing overall net migration.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman emphasised the importance of these measures, stating that although the UK is a sought-after destination for the brightest students and the world’s best universities, there has been an unprecedented surge in the number of student dependents entering the country on visas. Tightening this route is deemed necessary to fulfil the government’s pledge to the British people and reduce net migration. These actions aim to protect public services while allowing the most impactful student contributors to continue their educational endeavours in the UK.
The announced proposals do not undermine the success of the government’s International Education Strategy, which has already achieved the target of hosting 600,000 international higher education students studying in the UK each year by 2030 for two consecutive years.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan stressed the significance of attracting top students worldwide, as it not only benefits UK universities but also plays a vital role in boosting the economy and fostering valuable global relationships. However, the sharp increase in the number of family members accompanying students necessitates action to reduce this figure while maintaining the commitment to the International Education Strategy. This strategy continues to enrich the UK’s education sector and make a substantial contribution to the broader economy.
Following the UK’s departure from the EU, the government introduced a points-based immigration system, granting it full control over the country’s borders. This system is designed to be adaptable to the needs of the economy and the labour market, ensuring that UK businesses and the National Health Service (NHS) have access to the necessary skills and talent.
The government continuously reviews its immigration policies to ensure they align with the commitments made to the public regarding net migration. This approach guarantees that the UK’s migration dynamics remain responsive to the changing landscape and evolving national priorities.