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UK to limit international student dependant visas as migration rises

The UK government is set to limit dependant visas for international master’s students on one-year courses, according to new reports. 
May 11 2023
3 Min Read

The UK government is set to limit dependant visas for international students, according to new reports. 

The Department for Education, the Home Office and the Treasury are planning to prevent master’s students on one-year courses from bringing family members to the UK with them, reports the Financial Times

UK net migration figures are predicted to show a record high when they are released later in May, putting pressure on the government to take action to tackle immigration. 

The number of students bringing family members with them increased by almost 30% in 2022, making up 135,788 student visas. Almost 100,000 of these were granted to family members of Indian and Nigerian students. 

Jamie Arrowsmith, director of Universities UK International, said the organisation recognised that the growth in the number of dependants “may have exceeded planning assumption and that this has created some concerns for government, and indeed challenges in some areas of the UK – for example, around access to suitable family accommodation”.

“We are committed to working with government to understand these issues and to find solutions that ensure the UK continues to welcome international students and that we are able to grow numbers in a sustainable way that protects both the quality of the student experience and the UK’s global competitiveness,” he said.

Lil Bremermann-Richard, CEO of Oxford International Education Group, said limiting dependant visas will make it “impossible” for many students to study in the UK.

“If we are truly committed to attracting diverse talent, we need to take into consideration the financial costs that could be involved to secure care alternatives, or to travel back and forth,” she said.

“We also need to remember that students have lots of options; if presented with a choice of studying in the UK and leaving their dependants behind, or studying elsewhere, like Canada for example, with their family, many will choose the latter.

“This policy would exclude a large pool of people from studying at our universities, to the detriment of the UK and our higher education sector.”

A spokesperson from the Home Office said, “The public rightly expect us to control our borders and we remain committed to reducing net migration over time, while ensuring we have the skills our economy and public services needs.”

The proposed policy may not be a blanket ban, but dependant visas could instead be limited to students at top universities or studying “high-value” courses.

“This has created some concerns for government, and indeed challenges in some areas of the UK”

The Times newspaper reported in March that only students enrolled on courses ministers consider to be of high value to the economy, such as science, maths and engineering, will be allowed to bring family members. 

There have also been suggestions that university rankings may be used to decide which students are eligible to bring dependants. 

Writing on LinkedIn, Phil Baty, chief global affairs officer at Times Higher Education, said, “The talk is of using Times Higher Education’s world rankings, among others, as the mechanism to block access to dependents – restricting access to a tiny handful of UK elite universities in the world top 50 – mainly in London and the South East.”

According to the FT, education secretary Gillian Keegan has agreed to the plans. The cabinet minister previously said she will fight cuts to international student numbers and, earlier this week, told the Education World Forum she is “hugely proud” that there are over 600,000 overseas students in the UK. 

Keegan allegedly wants students to ensure students can bring family members if they stay and work in the UK after graduating, despite reports that the Home Office is considering reducing the length of the graduate route from two years to six months. 

Arrowsmith called for “clarity and certainty” over visa policy, saying that the government should commit to the targets set out in the International Education strategy and to maintaining the graduate route. He said both of these are “central to the UK’s attractiveness to prospective students, and our reputation as a global leader in international higher education”. 

Over the past decade, various politicians have called for student numbers to be excluded from net migration figures.

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