Foreign Postgraduate Students to Lose Right to Bring Family to UK in Immigration Crackdown
In a move to address record-high levels of legal migration, the UK government has announced stringent immigration curbs, prohibiting family members of foreign postgraduate students from accompanying them to the country. The timing of the announcement, just two days ahead of the anticipated release of official migration statistics projecting a staggering 700,000 migrants this year, highlights the government’s commitment to reducing migration numbers.
Last year witnessed a significant surge in the number of visas granted to dependants of foreign students, reaching 135,788, a stark increase from the 2019 figure of 15,038. Citing the need to lower migration levels, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak informed cabinet ministers that the policy change, set to take effect in January 2024, would have a substantial impact on the numbers, according to sources at No 10.
It remains uncertain how this policy change will directly influence official migration statistics, as individuals who come to the UK for less than a year, including students and their families, are not factored into migration figures.
While the government had previously alluded to exploring various options for reducing migration, it refrained from specifying an acceptable level. The Conservative party had previously pledged to cap net migration at under 100,000 per year but abandoned the target ahead of the 2019 election due to repeated failure in meeting it.
Under the new immigration regulations, partners and children of postgraduate students enrolled in non-research programs will be ineligible to apply to reside in the UK during their course of study.
Visas granted to dependants have been steadily increasing, particularly following the introduction of study visa requirements for European Economic Area (EEA) students after Brexit. The figures continued to climb after the rules were revised in 2019, granting foreign students the opportunity to remain in the UK for two years after graduation to pursue employment opportunities.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman described the unprecedented rise in dependants being granted visas as the catalyst for tightening this route and reducing migration numbers. In a parliamentary statement, she emphasized that the new measures strike a delicate balance, aiming to reduce migration while preserving the economic benefits that international students bring to the UK.
Internally, there were differing opinions within the government about extending the restrictions to all postgraduate students, including those enrolled in research programs. Some ministers, including Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, argued that students in research programs have longer stays and contribute more substantially to the economy.
These policy changes reflect the UK’s efforts to manage migration levels while considering the economic advantages associated with international students. As the government navigates this delicate balancing act, it seeks to strike a harmonious equilibrium between attracting talent and controlling the overall influx of migrants into the country.