Student visa data indicates UK’s boom years are over

Oxford analysts see no evidence of bump in applications ahead of introduction of new restrictions last month

二月 29, 2024
Airport arrivals lounge

The post-pandemic rise in UK student visas is over, Home Office figures suggest, but record numbers of dependants continued to arrive last year.

New data show that a total of 601,000 sponsored study visas were issued in 2023 – down 3 per cent from the peak of 619,000 the year before.

Last year, 457,673 of these were granted to main applicants, 5 per cent less than in 2022 but 70 per cent above the number in 2019.

“In general, it’s not surprising that the number of students overall would level off,” Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, told Times Higher Education.

“We’ve seen such a stark rise that it wasn’t going to continue forever.”

India remains the largest contributor of international students to the UK, but its students were issued 14 per cent less visas year on year – the first drop for eight years.

Other notable falls in the number of main applicants include Nigeria (28 per cent down), Bangladesh (39 per cent), Hong Kong (17 per cent) and Malaysia (10 per cent).

The Home Office data will be the last annual figures before the effect of recent policy changes is felt.

For courses starting on or after 1 January 2024, only research-based postgraduate students are allowed to bring dependants to the UK.

Dr Sumption said there was often a lag in the figures between main applicants, who usually apply in the summer, and their dependants, who arrive later. But she said there was no indication of an increase in the number of applications in advance of the restrictions coming into force.

In total, 143,595 visas were issued to student partners or children of international students in 2023, which was 7 per cent more than 2022 and almost nine times higher than 2019.

However, compared with the annual rises of 185 per cent and 147 per cent of the last few years, it means growth in the number of student dependants has stalled. And that trend looks set to reverse in 2024.

“In theory, there should be an absolutely massive drop-off in dependants because so few students would now qualify to bring them,” said Dr Sumption.

“There’s a big question about how that will affect recruitment overall and whether we might expect to see declines in main applicants from the kinds of country that did tend to bring dependants with them.”

The figures means that almost a quarter (24 per cent) of all sponsored-study visas were issued to dependants in 2023 – about double the ratio in 2021.

Jonathan Portes, professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London, said government announcements had contributed to the drop in granting student visas, which was particularly marked for India and Nigeria.

“Study visas now falling, reflecting greater international competition and recent policy change affecting student dependents [sic],” he posted on Twitter/X.

The statistics come as university leaders warn against moves to scrap or scale back the UK’s graduate visa route.

A survey by Universities UK revealed a “significant decline” in overseas enrolments, particularly at taught postgraduate level, where the numbers for January 2024 entry were 44 per cent down year-on-year.



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