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Rule changes for international students and dependents to reduce net migration

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In a written statement to parliament today, Suella Braverman announced that the government intends to tighten the rules for international students in an attempt to bring down net migration figures, which are due to be published this Thursday, 25 May. The government have also published a news story to confirm the plans announced in the written statement.

The government plans include:

  1. Removing the right for international students to bring dependants unless they are on postgraduate courses currently designated as research programmes.
  2. Removing the ability for international students to switch out of the student route into work routes before their studies have been completed.
  3. Reviewing the maintenance requirements for students and dependants.
  4. Steps to clamp down on unscrupulous education agents who may be supporting inappropriate applications to sell immigration not education.
  5. Better communicating immigration rules to the higher education sector and to international students.
  6. Improved and more targeted enforcement activity.

The government intends to consult with the higher education sector and key stakeholders before introducing any changes, but equally hopes these plans can be implemented as soon as possible, estimating that changes will come into force in January 2024.

Braverman said the “package strikes the right balance between acting decisively on tackling net migration and protecting the economic benefits that students can bring to the UK”. The immigration statistics due to be announced on Thursday confirm an “unexpected rise” in the number of dependents coming to the UK where the main applicant is a student.

The government has apparently met its target of hosting around 600,000 international students each year for the past two years, post-pandemic. But this inevitably comes with an increase in dependent visa applications. In 2019 around 16,000 student dependent visas were issued. In 2022, around 136,000 dependent visas were issued. We will have more to say on the net migration figures shortly.

Braverman says the government are “committed to attracting the brightest and the best to the UK”. Certainly points two and three above may mean that many of the “best and brightest” do not remain in the UK post-studies, or choose to study elsewhere in the world with the knowledge that coming to the UK, and remaining in the UK, is becoming more challenging.

Focusing on students to reduce net migration figures, which rose to around 500,000 for the year June 2021 to June 2022, may have limited effects. In terms of the net migration figures, international masters’ students and their dependents may not show up on the Office for National Statistics’ overall net migration figures anyway because many of their courses are less than a year in length.

A number of international students are also temporary migrants are also not major contributors to net migration in the long run. Whilst some go on to graduate visas, or skilled worker visas, data from the past ten years indicates that most end up not renewing their visas beyond this point, and most leave within ten years, if not at the end of their studies. So a recent increase in student immigration might well be accompanied by an increase in emigration in the years to come.

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