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New Immigration Restrictions for Foreign Students

Posted by Calum Martin in

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New immigration restrictions have been introduced regarding non-research courses for international postgraduate students in the UK. These changes will prevent them from bringing their family members along with them.

This announcement comes just two days before official statistics are set to reveal a record-breaking 700,000 legal migrants arriving this year.

Dependents of foreign students were granted 135,788 visas last year, which is almost nine times higher than the figure in 2019.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak informed ministers that this measure would contribute to reducing overall migration. According to No 10, he emphasized that the change, set to take effect in January 2024, would have a "significant impact on the numbers."

However, the precise effect on official migration levels remains unclear, as students and family members staying in the UK for less than a year are not included in the count.

Last week, Sunak mentioned that the government was exploring various options to decrease migration, but he declined to specify what would be deemed an acceptable level.

Previously, the Conservative Party pledged to bring net migration below 100,000 per year. However, they abandoned this target before the 2019 election due to repeated failures in achieving it.

The new announcement means that partners and children of postgraduate students, excluding those enrolled in research programs, will no longer be eligible to apply for residency in the UK during the course.

The number of dependant visas granted has risen significantly, reaching 135,788 last year, compared to 54,486 in 2021 and more than seven times the 19,139 granted in 2020.

These figures have increased due to the introduction of study visa requirements for European Economic Area (EEA) students following 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 rise in applications.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman described the unprecedented increase in dependant visas as a reason to tighten this pathway and reduce migration numbers while still acknowledging the economic benefits students bring to the UK.

There were differing opinions within the government regarding whether to go further and potentially ban dependants of all postgraduate students, including those on research courses. Some ministers, such as Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, argued that these students have longer stays and provide greater economic advantages.

Universities UK (UUK), the collective organization representing British universities, acknowledged the significant increase in dependant visas and acknowledged that it has presented certain localized challenges concerning family accommodation and schooling.

Considering this situation, Jamie Arrowsmith, the director of UUK's international division, suggested that targeted measures to address this rise may be appropriate. He called upon the government to collaborate with universities in monitoring the impact of these changes, emphasizing that they are likely to affect women and students from specific countries disproportionately.

The University and College Union (UCU), which advocates for university staff, strongly criticized this decision, labelling it a "vindictive move" and expressing deep concerns within the sector. Jo Grady, the general secretary of UCU, asserted that individuals accompanying international students to the UK contribute immense value to society and should have the right to live with their loved ones while pursuing studies.

Adam Habib, the director of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, condemned the announcement as a "terrible decision" for three reasons: financial challenges, coherence within the government, and human rights concerns. Speaking on BBC Radio 4, he warned that this decision could lead to financial crises for institutions heavily reliant on international student fees, exacerbating existing financial problems and labour disputes.

According to HESA, the UK hosted 679,970 international students during the 2021/2022 academic year. Among them, 307,470 were undergraduates who are already unable to bring their family members to the UK during their studies.

The remaining 372,500 students were postgraduates, with 46,350 engaged in research courses, predominantly pursuing PhDs, along with a small number pursuing research-based master's degrees.

Students arriving in the UK on a visa must provide documentation to establish their relationship with dependants, who are required to pay a £490 fee for their own visa. Additionally, dependants must contribute to the immigration health surcharge, which ranges from £470 to £624 annually, supporting NHS services.