In the year ending June 2022, 486,868 sponsored study visas were granted, including dependants, which is 71% more than in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic.
Of that number, 81,089 were granted to dependants of sponsored students, which was over five times the 2019 number, according to Home Office national statistics.
An article published by The Telegraph claimed that Suella Braverman, the home secretary, is analysing the trend and data on the dependants as part of an immigration review “which will aim to bring down the headline figure while also ensuring it boosts growth”.
Asked by The PIE to confirm the report, a Home Office spokesperson said that “the government will set out a plan in the coming weeks to ensure the immigration system supports growth whilst maintaining control” but refused to go into specific details surrounding international students and their dependants.
“The tabloids would love stories on international student dependants getting a free ride from the taxpayer”
Instead, they referred back to 2022 Growth Plan presented to parliament by the chancellor of the exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng which states that “migration, in particular skilled and high-skilled migration, plays an important role in economic growth, productivity, and innovation”.
“The government has reshaped immigration policy to shift the balance of people coming to the UK to those with skills the UK needs,” it continued.
It also added that the government is “committed to ensuring the immigration system works for business and encourages highly skilled people and high growth businesses to choose to locate and invest in the UK.”
It pointed to the introduction of visa routes such as Global Talent, High Potential Individual for graduates of the world’s top ranked universities, Scale
up Worker and Global Business Mobility as part of the ‘high growth’ immigration system.
Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University of Oxford and director of the ESRC/RE Centre for Global Higher Education, told The PIE News “sometimes government rhetoric is totally unreal in terms of real lives in a real society”.
“The tabloids would love stories on international student dependants getting a free ride from the taxpayer. The fact that international students pay massive fees, and students and their families pour money into the economy, would not trouble them,” he continued.
The Telegraph reported that international students from Nigeria and India brought the most dependants to the UK with 34,000 Nigerian students bringing 31,898 dependants and 93,100 Indian students bringing 24,916 dependants.
It also reported that dependants from Libya were higher than the number of students from this country with 272 international student applicants and 455 dependants.
Government statistics show that between March 2021 to March 2022 there were particularly large increases in sponsored study visa grants to dependants – from 23,765 to 72,554 – in addition to increases for dependants of skilled workers figures, which were up from 37,764 to 83,400.
Home Office analysis has previously acknowledged that “those coming on sponsored study visas bring relatively few dependants, with 83% of the visas issued being to main applicants, and therefore around one in six grants being to a dependent”.
In contrast, for work visas, around two thirds of grants were to main applicants and one third to dependants.
In September 2021, a report published by UUKi and HEPI, provided an in-depth analysis revealing the huge contribution of international students to the UK’s economic prosperity. It stated that “every part of the UK is financially better off – on average by £390 per person – because of international students”.
The research also shows international students deliver a net economic benefit of £25.9 billion.
“Crucially, this figure excludes the tax and NI contribution of dependents working in the UK and so likely underestimates the total economic contribution that international students bring to the UK,” Jamie Arrowsmith, acting director of Universities UK International, said
“We want the UK to continue to be an open and welcoming destination for international students and talent from across the world. This includes offering some international students the opportunity to bring dependents and family members with them to the UK. This tends to be those studying full-time postgraduate courses,” Arrowsmith added.
“Dependent visas are a recognised part of the immigration system and anyone who enters the UK on this route is subject to UK immigration rules and must pay the Immigration Health Surcharge, which goes towards funding the NHS.”
Speaking on number of student visas granted, Margison told The PIE, “why anyone would want to reduce their number escapes me”.
Doing so would “seriously discourage” older international students with partners and families from applying to study in the UK, he warned.
“How [reducing numbers] could foster growth, or not detract from growth, also escapes me,” he continued.
Marginson urged the government to “pitch to the humanist vote rather than the bigotry vote for a change”.
“We all expected the present home secretary would be even more prejudicial than her predecessor, and this might be the proof,” he added.