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Why UK is Banning International Students from Bringing Family Members (DETAILS YOU NEED TO KNOW)

  • The UK government will prevent international students from bringing dependants with them beginning January 2024 – unless students are in postgraduate programmes with a research focus
  • The move is intended to help curb net migration
  • The Graduate Route will not be affected in new immigration restrictions – eligible students will still be allowed 2-3 years to remain in the UK under this route
  • Students will not be permitted to switch to the Skilled Worker Route until they complete their programme

Immigration is at an all-time high in the UK, and the government wants to tighten up the profile of migrants who come to the country and bring down the net migration total.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said:
"The UK is a top destination for the brightest students to learn at some of the world’s best universities. But we have seen an unprecedented rise in the number of student dependents 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."

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.

But the number of family members being brought to the UK by students has risen significantly. It is right we are taking action to reduce this number while maintaining commitment to our International Education Strategy, which continues to enrich the UK’s education sector and make a significant contribution to the wider economy."

Students must stay in student route until programmes are completed

Also announced: International students will no longer be able to obtain a Skilled Worker Visa before their studies have been completed. The rule is intended to discourage international students from choosing the UK predominantly because they want to work there, rather than study. As India’s Economic Times reported last year,

“More and more international students have been opting for [the Skilled Worker route] since it offers a cheaper and faster pathway to full-time employment in the UK. The Graduate Route, on the other hand, requires students to pay expensive course fees and maintenance for the duration of their course, before entering the jobs market.”

The government is shutting down the potential of the Skilled Worker Route being used as a backdoor for non-genuine students determined to find work in the UK.

The impact on one-year master’s students

All undergraduate international students will be prevented from bringing their dependants – but they are not the only ones facing the ban. Those coming for one-year master’s programmes will also be affected. The one-year master’s is a very popular option for Indian and Nigerian students, who are driving the growth of international enrolments in the UK, as well as for all students who must consider affordability when choosing where to study and in which programme. Price-sensitive students are especially likely to be in the very emerging markets coveted by universities across leading destinations.

Postgraduate international students, including one-year master’s students, are incredibly important to the revenue of UK universities. Non-EU students are particularly well represented at the postgraduate level, as shown in the chart below. More than 320,000 non-EU students were full-time postgraduate students in 2021/22, versus just over 25,000 EU students and roughly 193,000 UK-domiciled students.

Will the policy be softened?

There is uncertainty about how much flexibility Ms Braverman will allow regarding which students can bring dependants:
“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. We will bring in this system as soon as possible, after thorough consultation with the sector and key stakeholders.”

Graduate Route will not be affected at this stage

There was concern last year in international education circles that the Home Office would reduce the time international students could remain in the UK through the Graduate Route from two years to six months. But this feared reduction has not come to pass, and international students will still be able to stay for two years through the Graduate Route (three years for doctoral/PhD students).

Clampdown on agents

The government has also announced that it will “clamp down on unscrupulous international student agents who may be supporting inappropriate applications.” It will be ever-more important for agents to set themselves apart by obtaining professional certifications and establishing a strong track record of success and ethical conduct.

Why are international students targeted?

The economic value of international students in the UK is well documented, but there is rising alarm in some parts of British population about the record pace of migration and what it means for jobs, housing, and the fabric of British society. The chart below shows that international students and their dependants represent an increasing proportion of net migration, as do individuals fleeing from the war in Ukraine.

Only 21% of Britons surveyed this year said they would like to see the number of international students in the country reduced, yet many more want to see immigration curbed (42% as of a separate 2022 Ipsos poll). While the impact of reducing international student dependant numbers will almost certainly be “tangible,” it will very likely also make it more difficult for UK universities to attract international students in the coming months.

From & ICEF Monitor

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