LONDON: The UK government on Tuesday announced a new immigration crackdown targeted at overseas students, including Indians, and their visa right to bring dependent family members to the country while enrolled at a British institution.
In a written statement to the House of Commons, UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman said that only international students on postgraduate courses currently designated as research programmes will be allowed to bring in their family members, including children and elderly parents, as their dependents.
The Indian-origin minister said the new package of measures was necessary after it emerged that around 136,000 visas were granted to dependents of sponsored students in the year ending December 2022 – a more than eight-fold increase from 16,000 in 2019.
“This package includes removing the right for international students to bring dependants unless they are on postgraduate courses currently designated as research programmes,” Braverman’s statement notes.
Removing the ability for international students to switch out of the student route into work routes before their studies have been completed and reviewing the maintenance requirements for students and dependants are listed among the other new measures.
The minister also pledged steps to clamp down on unscrupulous education agents “who may be supporting inappropriate applications to sell immigration not education”.
Improved and more targeted enforcement activity is also listed within the new package.
“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,” she said.
The new curbs are expected to be enforced “as soon as possible”, after consultation with the educational sector and key stakeholders.
The crackdown was widely expected as reports indicated that the UK’s latest net migration figures to be released later this week will show a massive rise from 504,000 between June 2021 and 2022 despite a Conservative Party-led government pledge to bring down immigration in the wake of Brexit.
“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,” said Jamie Arrowsmith, Director of Universities UK International (UUKi) – the representative body for 140 UK universities.
“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,” he said.
The UUKi welcomed confirmation that the new Graduate route visa, which allows students to stay on and seek work experience for up to three years at the end of their degree, will remain “open and competitive”.
Indians, who recently overtook Chinese as the leading nationality granted study visas to the UK, are the highest cohort to access this visa launched in July 2021.
As per official data for 2020-21, there were 87,045 Indian first-year enrolments behind China’s 99,965 and ahead of Nigeria’s 32,945.
In terms of the number of dependants accompanying these students, Nigerians rank the highest followed by Indians.