India overtakes China as student migration to UK hits record high

Arrivals in country soar following rollback of Covid-era travel restrictions

November 24, 2022
Source: iStock

A record number of international students were granted UK visas in the past year, according to Home Office data.

The news comes as separate figures show that foreign students have helped fuel record levels of net migration to the country.

Home Office statistics show that 476,000 sponsored study visas were issued to main applicants in the year to September – up 24 per cent from the year before, and the most since comparable records began in 2009.

However, statisticians warned that these do not account for changes to travel patterns following the Covid-19 pandemic which may have led to more students applying for visas.

Of the visas granted in the last year, 127,731 (27 per cent) were granted to Indian nationals – almost four times as many as were issued in the last full calendar year before the pandemic.

This was the first year on record that Indian students have outnumbered those from China, who make up 24 per cent of applicants.

They were followed by students from Nigeria (11 per cent), Pakistan (5 per cent) and Bangladesh (3 per cent).

A fifth of all sponsored study-related visas were issued to dependants – up from just 6 per cent in 2019, with Nigerian applicants making up 44 per cent of all dependant visas.

The Home Office cautioned that this change may mean that greater numbers of older students are now coming to study in the UK.

separate release from the Office for National Statistics showed long-term immigration to the UK reached an estimated 1.1 million in the year to June, giving a record net migration of 504,000.

“Migration from non-EU countries, specifically students, is driving this rise,” said Jay Lindop, director of the Centre for International Migration at the ONS.

“With the lifting of travel restrictions in 2021, more students arrived in the UK after studying remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.”

The ONS said it is too early to say whether this trend will continue, and that many other factors – including people fleeing Ukraine or Afghanistan, and the new visa route for Hong Kong British nationals – will have played a role.

The increase in those arriving to study may also be influenced by the new graduate visa route, which allows students to work in the UK for up to three years after finishing their studies, it added.

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said that while European Union net migration remains negative, non-EU migration has risen.

“The humanitarian routes for Ukraine and Hong Kong and a rebound in international students have played the largest role in boosting immigration levels,” she said.

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