In a recent announcement, the United Kingdom's government has unveiled temporary restrictions on the ability of international students to bring their family members to the country. Home Secretary Suella Braverman revealed that starting from January 2024, only students enrolled in postgraduate research programs, including PhD students, will be allowed to bring dependents with them.
The move comes as part of an interim plan while the government finalizes an "alternative approach" that aims to strike a balance between accommodating the "best and brightest" students and reducing net migration figures. These new regulations were disclosed ahead of the release of the latest net migration statistics.
It is important to note that the restrictions will not impact students who are currently studying or those commencing their courses before January 2024. Previously, there were speculations that students at top-ranking universities or pursuing "high-value" courses would be exempt from these restrictions. However, concerns have been raised regarding the practical implementation of a merit-based policy.
The restrictions also include a prohibition on international students switching from a study visa to a work visa before completing their courses. This measure aims to address the growing trend of newly arrived students dropping out of their studies to work in the care sector, as reported in recent years.
To complement these changes, the UK government intends to crack down on "unscrupulous education agents" who prioritize selling immigration services over providing quality education. Furthermore, a review of the "maintenance requirements" for students and their dependents is expected, although further details have yet to be released.
It is worth mentioning that the graduate route, which allows international students to work in the UK after graduation, remains unchanged. This route serves as an incentive for talented students to contribute to the UK's economy beyond their academic pursuits.
Based on the latest available data, approximately 136,000 visas were granted to dependents of sponsored students in the year ending December 2022. This represents a significant increase compared to the 16,000 dependant visas granted in 2019.
While the government has praised these changes for striking a balance between reducing net migration and preserving the economic benefits brought by international students, concerns have been raised regarding their potential impact on certain demographics. Jamie Arrowsmith, director of Universities UK International, has highlighted that the new rules may disproportionately affect women and students from specific countries.
Recent research has emphasized the economic contribution of international students to the UK's economy, with a total contribution of £41.9 billion during the academic year 2021/22.
As the UK government aims to manage migration while ensuring the economic benefits of international students, further details and clarifications regarding the policy changes are eagerly awaited by the education sector and those affected by these measures.
Article by Carolyne Nyokabi