The UK government announced new immigration curbs, whereby international postgraduate students on non-research programmes will lose the right to bring their family members to the country. According to PM Rishi Sunak, the objective of the move is to bring migration down.
The announcement has come two days before the release of the official migration statistics. According to these statistics, legal migration in the UK has crossed a whopping 700,000 this year. Dependents of international students make up a significant chunk, with 135,788 visas granted to them last year. The number is nine times that of 2019 figures.
The surge came after Brexit led to the introduction of study visa norms for European Economic Area (EEA) students. The second reason for the increase in migration numbers is the new rules allowing foreign students to stay in the country for two years after graduation.
According to the announcements, postgraduate students, except those in the courses designated as research programmes, will not be allowed to apply for partners and children to live in the country during their studies. The UK government has implemented a new rule to find a balance between lowering migration and protecting the economic benefits international students can drive for the UK.
Earlier, the Conservatives promised to reduce net migration below the annual target of 100,000 but ditched the target before the 2019 election after failing to achieve it.
The unexpected move brings mixed reactions as there is a division within the government and education domain about the next steps. In fact, it may even consider banning the families of all postgraduate students, including the ones in research programmes.
Some ministers are of the opinion that research students stay longer and offer greater economic benefits. Universities UK (UUK) supported the step stating that the increase in dependant visas leads to challenges related to family accommodation and schooling.
Conversely, the University and College Union (UCU) considers it a vindictive move that may be a deep concern for the sector. Families of international students bring value to society and offer support to their loved ones while they study.
STUDENT & DEPENDENT NUMBERS
The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) shared the following details about the numbers of students and dependents in the UK:
It means that only a small fraction can now bring dependents to live with them in the UK. The process is expensive as they need to provide documents to establish their relationship with the dependent applicants and pay a fee of £490 for a visa. An additional immigration health surcharge of £470 and £624 goes annually towards NHS services.