British newspaper The Times reported that foreign students could be barred from bringing their spouses and children to the UK unless they study “high-value” degrees, as the government continues to debate policy changes.
According to the newspaper, students will only be able to bring family members if they are studying courses that ministers consider to be of high value to the economy, such as science, maths and engineering.
Currently, students who are studying at postgraduate level can bring family members, no matter which course they are enrolled on.
A spokesperson from the Home Office declined to confirm the reports, telling The PIE that all immigration policies are “under constant review to ensure they best serve the country and reflect the public’s priorities.
“Our points-based system is designed to be flexible according to the UK’s needs – including attracting top class talent from across the world to contribute to the UK’s excellent academic reputation and to help keep our universities competitive on the world stage,” the spokesperson said.
Last year, 22% (135,788) of all study related visas were granted to dependants of students , compared to 6% (16,047) in 2019. In its data release, the Home Office wrote this may “reflect a change in the composition of students” coming to the UK, such as a greater number of older students.
Nigerian students had the highest number of dependants in 2022, increasing to 60,923 from 1,586 in 2019, while Indian nationals had the second highest at 38,990. There were almost 120,000 dependant visas granted to the top 5 nationalities (Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) in 2022.
Jeff Williams, CEO and co-founder of student onboarding platform Enroly, previously told The PIE that this rise was to be expected given the increasing popularity of postgraduate courses.
While the international education sector has previously spoken out against limiting dependant visas, some have expressed concerns around supporting students with family members when it comes to finding housing and schools.
A formal announcement from the UK government on international student policy updates is expected imminently.
Opposition party MPs have also spoken out against changes to policy surrounding foreign students.
Wes Streeting, shadow health and social care secretary in the Labour Party, said in a parliamentary debate at the end of February that he hoped UK home secretary Suella Braverman “does not win” the arguments around international students.
Streeting said having international students at British universities is “a wonderful thing”.
“It is wonderful for British students who mix with cohorts drawn from across the world, and it is wonderful because they contribute to the cultural and intellectual life of our universities, and of the towns and cities in which they live while studying here,” Streeting said.
“It is a wonderful thing because they often return to their countries with fond memories of Britain, which is an extension of our soft power and diplomatic influence.”