UK student visas: government cracks down on dependants

International students coming to UK will be prevented from bringing family members, unless on postgraduate research courses

May 23, 2023
Suella Braverman
Source: UK Parliament

International students will be banned from bringing family members to the UK unless they are on postgraduate research courses, under new rules set out by the government.

Suella Braverman, the home secretary, also announced that there would be no changes to the two-year graduate route visa – which some in government had reportedly wanted to scale back.

Regarding the measures on dependants, to come into effect from January 2024, Ms Braverman said the government’s 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. We will bring in this system as soon as possible, after thorough consultation with the sector and key stakeholders.”

The move is part of a raft of changes announced by Ms Braverman in an attempt to reduce migration, ahead of figures this week which are expected to show record numbers of people coming into the country.

In a statement to MPs, she said that the government’s plans would help deliver falling net migration, while also continuing to meet its International Education Strategy commitments – which included a target to welcome 600,000 international students per year by 2030.

The biggest change is the removal of the right of international students to bring dependants to the UK, unless they are on postgraduate courses currently designated as research programmes.

Among the new measures is that overseas students will be unable to switch from the student route into work routes before their studies have been completed, while maintenance requirements for students and dependants will be reviewed.

About 136,000 visas were granted to dependants of sponsored students in the year ending December 2022 – over eight times more than were granted in 2019.

“This package strikes the right balance between acting decisively on tackling net migration and protecting the economic benefits that students can bring to the UK,” said Ms Braverman.

“Now is the time for us to make these changes to ensure an impact on net migration as soon as possible. We expect this package to have a tangible impact on net migration.”

Jamie Arrowsmith, director of Universities UK International, said the news that the graduate route will remain open is “critically important” to the sector.

And the announcement on dependants – following months of rumour and speculation – provides some clarity for students, but leaves some questions unanswered.

“We recognise that, in some places, [the rise in the number of dependants] has led to local challenges around access to suitable family accommodation and schooling, with implications for the student experience,” said Mr Arrowsmith.

But he urged the government to limit the impact of any changes on those likely to be disproportionately affected, such as women, and on universities, which are “already under serious financial pressures”.

“Ultimately, our collective aim must be to ensure that international students who choose the UK can be confident that they are welcome here, that their contribution is valued, and that the terms on which they have made decisions remain stable,” he continued.

“Anything that threatens to affect the UK’s global success as a top destination for international talent needs to be considered very carefully.”

Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said the decision to ban dependants treats international students with contempt, and is a “vindictive move from a government captured by anti-immigration sentiment”.

“It is clear that deep concern is already being felt across the sector as to just how damaging the package of measures announced by the home secretary could be to the pipeline of international talent coming to the UK,” she added.

“This is another deeply shameful moment for a government hell-bent on attacking migrants and undermining our universities.”

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