UK to introduce tougher immigration rules for students and dependents?
“The proposed policy seems out of the blue, as it goes against everything the government has said in the past decade”
British home secretary Suella Braverman is drawing up new immigration rules to make it harder for foreign students to come to the UK with their dependents. This proposal has come in light of a five-fold growth in “dependant visas” issued in the last three years.
If approved, it will be added to other post-Brexit measures implemented since the UK left the European Union. But how will a changed immigration system impact student migration and how will education exports economy be impacted?
For decades, international students have come to the UK to study. Many overseas students are not just young people looking for an experience of living abroad but adults with dependent family members who want to use education to invest in their future.
The current UK student immigration rules allow people to bring their children and spouse as long as they can provide proof of monthly maintenance funds per dependent. They can also stayed two or three years more after their study to work or look for job. These perks attracted many international students, resulting in the increase of approved dependent visas to 81,098 in June 2022. This high number is inconsistent with prime minister Sunak’s plans to cut net migration to the UK drastically.
The proposed policy seems out of the blue, as it goes against everything the government has said in the past decade. Just three years ago, they set a target to increase the number of foreign nationals on student visas by 130,000 by 2030.
How Does Braverman Plan to Reduce Dependents with Immigration Status?
Braverman’s immediate plan is to make bringing a dependent family member over harder by increasing the amount a student must earn per dependent. This amount may be unachievable for many students and force them to consider education elsewhere or leave their dependents behind.
Another way the government might cut immigration is to include a cap within the student visa system. This would reduce dependents and student numbers and make a substantial dent in net migration. These policies are still in their embryonic stages as part of a package of policies from the home office to tackle all immigration routes, not just illegal immigrants.
The Impact on the Higher Education Sector
International students currently pay tuition fees of £22,000 on average a year. Universities are able to raise a lot of money from recruiting overseas students as, unlike British and Irish citizens, these fees are not capped.
With over 600,000 foreign students learning in the UK, the tuition fees alone raise £1.3 billion for UK universities, improving university education for British citizens and non-EU migrants alike. Unsurprisingly, these measures have been criticised by Universities UK and other organisations representing further education colleges and institutions. Chief executive Vivienne Stern condemned the policy as “nonsensical” and “crude.”
The policy may have further ramifications on the UK economy beyond the direct impact on educational institutions. Historically, international graduates have remained in the UK to access skilled work opportunities or further study, contributing to the UK’s research output and growth. This has formed a valuable post-study work route, helping to remedy the shortage of all types of workers in the UK, especially in public services.
Students wanting to bring dependents with them are also more likely to be older postgraduate students. These students are most likely to want to access legal routes into high-value jobs in the UK’s workplace. Reducing their ability to study in the UK will starve the nation’s workforce of highly skilled workers and researchers.
Braverman’s new measures to increase the salary threshold will cause incredible frustration to international students in higher education. It comes as part of significant changes to how the UK will tackle its record-high immigration rate in the past year. Historically, the United Kingdom government has targeted illegal immigrants. But attention in the past few years seems to be shifting to also include legal migrants, especially international students and their families. This could make the UK loose its share of foreign students market which it recently regained after losing to competitors like Canada, US and Australia due to its unfavourable immigration strategy.
About the author: Olusegun Akinfenwa is a writer for Immigration Advice Service.