Only students on postgraduate courses currently designated as research programs, which includes PhD students, will be able to bring dependants under new rules set out by home secretary Suella Braverman.
The move is a temporary measure while the government finalises an “alternative approach” which it says will ensure “the best and the brightest students can bring dependants to our world leading universities, while continuing to reduce net migration”.
The changes will come into effect for students starting courses from January 2024, according to Sky News.
It has previously been reported that students enrolled at top-ranking universities or on “high-value” courses would be allowed to continue bringing dependants, but there has been debate about the practicalities of implementing a merit-based policy.
International students are also no longer able to switch from a study visa to a work visa before completing their course, following a growing trend of newly-arrived students dropping out to work in the care sector.
Other measures announced include a clampdown on “unscrupulous education agents” who are selling “immigration not education” and a review of the “maintenance requirements” for students and dependants. The government has yet to release further details on these policy changes.
The graduate route, which allows international students to stay and work in the UK once they graduate, remains unchanged.
“This package strikes the right balance between acting decisively on tackling net migration and protecting the economic benefits that students can bring to the UK”
The rules have been set out ahead of the release of the latest net migration figures on Thursday, which are expected to show a significant increase, despite government commitments to reduce migration.
Around 136,000 visas were granted to dependants of sponsored students in the year ending December 2022, an increase from 16,000 in 2019.
In a written statement, Braverman said, “The International Education Strategy plays an important part in supporting the economy through the economic contribution students can bring to the UK, but this should not be at the expense of our commitment to the public to lower overall migration and ensure that migration to the UK is highly skilled and therefore provides the most benefit.”
Research released last week found that international students contributed £41.9 billion to the UK’s economy in the academic year 2021/22.
Braverman added, “This package strikes the right balance between acting decisively on tackling net migration and protecting the economic benefits that students can bring to the UK.”
Jamie Arrowsmith, director of Universities UK International, said the changes would have a “disproportionate impact on women and students from certain countries”.
He added that the announcement provided “some clarity for students and universities after many months of rumour and speculation but leaves some questions unanswered”.
“The rise in the number of dependent visas has been substantial and has likely exceeded planning assumptions in government.
“We recognise that, in some places, this has led to local challenges
around access to suitable family accommodation and schooling, with implications for the student experience.
“Given this, some targeted measures to mitigate this rise may be reasonable, for example looking at eligibility for particular types of course (such as one-year taught postgraduate programs) or enhancing the financial assurances that prospective students are required to provide,” he said.