Whitehall opposition to Braverman plan to cut UK graduate visa

Departments asked to set out positions on visas, with those resisting restrictions on post-study work options said to include Treasury

January 30, 2023
Met police officers drag barriers  into place to illustrate opposition in Whitehall to Home Office plan for graduate visa limits
Source: Getty

UK government departments have been asked to set out their position on student visa reforms as the Home Office presses for restrictions, with opposition to post-study work limitations said to be coming from an array of departments including the Treasury.

The Times reported that Suella Braverman, the home secretary, has proposed reducing the time that overseas students can stay in the UK after completing their courses under the graduate visa route from two years to six months, a plan “strongly opposed” by the Department for Education.

Previous calls from Ms Braverman for a student visa “crackdown”, aired in the press from autumn to Christmas last year, were regarded as “noise” – with no government machinery turning to implement such plans.

However, Times Higher Education understands that on 20 January government departments were formally asked to outline their positions on visa policy options.

It is thought that not just the DfE, but a range of departments including the Treasury, the Department for International Trade and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – fearing damage to the UK’s economic position – have set out opposition to the Home Office plan on reducing the time allowed under the graduate visa route.

Opposition is said to be less strong to reform of the rules on overseas students’ rights to bring dependants into the UK – and sector sources are hopeful that change in this area will be the option 10 Downing Street chooses, rather than targeting the graduate visa route.

No 10 was thought likely to make a decision soon.

The Times reported that Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, asked the Home Office and the DfE to submit proposals for reducing the number of international students coming to the UK. It said there were “concerns among some in government” that the 2019 target to recruit 600,000 overseas students annually by 2030, met last year, had been “too successful”.

Mr Sunak and Ms Braverman are alarmed by rising net migration figures, which include students. Figures published in November showed net migration rising to 504,000 last year.

On dependants, Ms Braverman is reportedly aiming to change the rules so only overseas students studying for a PhD or another postgraduate course at least two years long can bring family with them. Lesser options such as stepping up the “proof of funds” requirements on dependants, or restricting the number of dependants that students can bring, rather than barring undergraduates from bringing relatives full stop, would be favoured by universities.

The proposal to reduce the number of additional family members entering the country comes after figures showed a tripling in visas issued to students’ dependants, with 70 per cent of all dependants coming from Nigeria and India.

Universities would be quite content to see another of the changes reportedly being sought by Ms Braverman – barring students from switching to a work visa in the UK until they have finished their course – which they had long warned was a problem with the scheme.

Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, said new restrictions on students and dependants “could impact on quality and choice for domestic students as well as the UK’s research and innovation capability, hurting efforts to cement our status as a science superpower”.

Jamie Arrowsmith, director of Universities UK International, said it was “vital that government does not introduce policies that create lasting damage to the UK’s global reputation and competitiveness, and to local economies up and down the country”.


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Reader's comments (1)

Once, you went to university and found your partner there. Never realised now how many students have wives/husbands, and children....and all the other relatives to assist with their studies.