International students, including Indians, starting courses at British universities this month will no longer be able to bring family members on all but postgraduate research courses and courses with government-funded scholarships under tougher UK visa norms effective from Monday.
The UK Home Office said the changes, first announced by former home secretary Suella Braverman in May last year, are aimed at clamping down on people using the student visa as a backdoor route to work in the UK and will see an estimated 140,000 fewer people come to the UK.
The tougher rules are geared towards cutting what Home Secretary James Cleverly dubbed as an “unreasonable practice” of overseas students bringing dependants, which official figures show have risen by more than 930 per cent since 2019.
“This government is delivering on its commitment to the British public to cut migration. We have set out a tough plan to rapidly bring numbers down, control our borders and prevent people from manipulating our immigration system, which will come into force throughout this year,” Cleverly said in a statement.
“Today, a major part of that plan comes into effect, ending the unreasonable practice of overseas students bringing their family members to the UK. This will see migration falling rapidly by the tens of thousands and contribute to our overall strategy to prevent 300,000 people from coming to the UK,” he said.
The UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that in the year ending September 2023, as many as 152,980 visas were issued to dependants of students, a massive rise from the 14,839 in the year ending September 2019.
“Our world-leading universities rightly attract some of the brightest students from around the world to the UK. But we have seen a surge in the number of dependants being brought by students, which is contributing to unsustainable levels of migration,” said UK Minister for Legal Migration and the Border Tom Pursglove.
“We are completely committed to seeing a decisive cut in migration. The action implemented today to restrict bringing dependants on the student visa route allows us to better protect our public services while supporting the economy by allowing the students who contribute the most to keep coming here. This is part of a series of measures which together will see 300,000 fewer people coming to the UK compared to last year,” he said.
The Home Office said the changes to student visas strike the “right balance” to continue to preserve the attractiveness of the UK’s world-leading higher education sector while removing the ability for institutions to undermine the UK’s reputation by “selling immigration, not education”.
It said the government will work with universities to design an “alternative approach” for the brightest and the best to bring dependants to the UK’s world-leading universities while continuing to reduce net migration.
The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak-led UK government has committed to bringing down levels of migration, both legal and illegal, into the country.
Last month, Cleverly announced a further set of measures including tightening health and care visas by stopping overseas care workers from bringing dependants and requiring care firms in England to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission to sponsor visas.
Salary thresholds across the Skilled Worker route will also be increased by nearly 50 per cent to GBP 38,700, a figure to be matched for British or permanent UK residents sponsoring family members to join them in the UK by early next year.
Meanwhile, the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) will be commissioned to review the graduate route or post-study work visa.
In the student visa category, Indian nationals represent the largest group of students granted leave to remain on this route, making up 43 per cent of grants.
Diaspora student groups have expressed widespread concerns over this proposed review of the route, which allows for post-study work experience and is the top factor behind students from India choosing UK universities.
“This package of measures, taken in addition to the measures on student dependants, means that around 300,000 people who came to the UK last year would not be able to in the future – the largest reduction ever. This is a tough but fair approach to bring net migration down to sustainable levels as soon as possible, while ensuring those affected have ample time to prepare for upcoming changes – with the package being introduced gradually throughout early 2024,” the Home Office said.