Speaking in the House of Commons, James Cleverly said that international students were part of the “robust action” the government has announced through a five-point plan on immigration.
Recent ONS figures showed net migration to June reached 672,000 people, a lower figure than December 2022, but still “far too high”, the minister said.
Through the points-based immigration system introduced since Brexit, the government has sought to pick and choose who can come to the UK, he indicated.
Measures announced included a plan to reduce the number of dependants brought by overseas workers and an increase in the salary threshold migrants need to earn (from £26,200 to £38,700).
In addition, the Home Office has asked the migration advisory committee to review the graduate route.
“[The Graduate Route] needs to work in the best interests of the UK, supporting the pathway into high quality jobs for the global talent pool but reducing opportunities for abuse,” said Cleverly.
The five-point plan covers:
- No longer allowing dependants of overseas workers to come to the UK and increasing the annual immigration health surcharge
- Increasing the skilled worker salary threshold by one-third to £38,700 (health sector exempt)
- Scrapping cut-price overseas labour rule where 20% lower rates paid to in-shortage occupations – review list
- Raising the minimum income for family visas also up to £38,700 from £18,600
- Asking the Migration Advisory Committee to review the Graduate Route
“This package of measures, taken in addition with the measures on student dependants that we have already announced, means that around 300,000 fewer people will be eligible to come to the UK than were coming last year,” predicted Cleverly.
“Immigration policy must be fair, consistent, legal and sustainable.”
Earlier this year, the government announced a ban on postgraduate taught students from overseas on bringing dependants with them. The rule, due to come into force in January 2024, is unlikely to have had an impact on numbers of students coming to the UK this year.
“We always want to attract the best and the brightest,” Cleverly said.
UK net migration in 2022 was upgraded to a record 745,000 when new figures were released last month.
Some in government looked to international students as a cause of high immigration numbers, pointing to the fact that 135,788 visas were granted to international students’ dependants last year.
The sector has repeatedly pointed to low overstay rates among this section of immigrants, in addition to emphasising the need to remove international students from the migration figures.
The government also announced in May of this year that it would close a loophole allowing students to switch to work visas before their studies have been completed.
The Graduate Route was launched to allow international students graduating in the 2020/21 academic year to access a two-year post-study work visa. It was welcomed emphatically by the sector – stakeholders have been passionately arguing the advantages for both the sector and for international students themselves.
Last week at an Independent Higher Education conference, former universities minister Jo Johnson warned of a “period of risk” but said he remains “hopeful that the graduate route will survive until the general election”.