UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman has insisted that the government is committed to attracting the brightest and the best to the country as she tabled tightened international student visa norms in a written statement to the House of Commons this week.
It will mean that any students not pursuing a postgraduate level research course will not be allowed to bring their dependant family members with them on their student visa. The British Indian minister said the crackdown was necessary because around 136,000 visas were granted to dependants of sponsored students in the year ending December 2022 – a more than eight-fold increase from 16,000 in 2019.
She said: “The proposals we are announcing today will ensure that we can continue to meet our International Education Strategy commitments, while making a tangible contribution to reducing net migration to sustainable levels. The terms of the Graduate Route remain unchanged.
“We are committed to attracting the brightest and the best to the UK. Therefore, our intention is to work with universities over the course of the next year to design an alternative approach that ensures that the best and the brightest students can bring dependants to our world leading universities, while continuing to reduce net migration.”
Her package of measures expected to be enforced soon includes:
Removing the right for international students to bring dependants unless they are on postgraduate courses currently designated as research programmes.
Removing the ability for international students to switch out of the student route into work routes before their studies have been completed.
Reviewing the maintenance requirements for students and dependants.
Steps to clamp down on unscrupulous education agents who may be supporting inappropriate applications to sell immigration not education.
Better communicating immigration rules to the higher education sector and to international students.
Improved and more targeted enforcement activity.
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While Indian students recently overtook their Chinese counterparts as the largest cohort of student visa applicants, they rank behind Nigerians in the numbers associated with those bringing in dependant family members.
The Universities UK International (UUKi), the representative body for 140 UK universities, welcomed status quo on the Graduate Route visa – which has proved particularly popular among Indians as an option to stay on and gain work experience at the end of a UK university course.
UUKi Director Jamie Arrowsmith said: “While the vast majority of students will be unaffected by proposals that limit the ability to be accompanied by dependants, more information is needed on the programmes that are in scope before a proper assessment of the impact can be made.
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“Yet we do know that any changes are likely to have a disproportionate impact on women and students from certain countries. We therefore urge the government to work with the sector to limit and monitor the impact on particular groups of students – and on universities, which are already under serious financial pressures.”