New UK Visa Norms Limit Family Accompaniment for International Students

by Dr. Jasneet Bedi

In a significant shift in immigration policy, the United Kingdom has implemented tougher visa rules affecting international students, particularly those from India, commencing this month. The changes, initially disclosed by former Home Secretary Suella Braverman in May last year, restrict the ability of international students to bring family members, with exceptions only for postgraduate research courses and courses with government-funded scholarships.

The UK Home Office asserts that these modifications aim to curb the misuse of student visas as a means to gain entry for work purposes, anticipating a reduction of approximately 140,000 individuals coming to the UK. Home Secretary James Cleverly describes the move as a critical step in ending what he deems an “unreasonable practice” of overseas students bringing dependents, a phenomenon that has surged by over 930% since 2019, according to official figures.

Cleverly emphasizes the government’s commitment to reducing migration and controlling borders, stating, “Today, a major part of that plan comes into effect, ending the unreasonable practice of overseas students bringing their family members to the UK. This will see migration falling rapidly by the tens of thousands and contribute to our overall strategy to prevent 300,000 people from coming to the UK.”

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) highlights a substantial increase in visas issued to dependents of students, reaching 152,980 in the year ending September 2023, compared to 14,839 in the year ending September 2019.

UK Minister for Legal Migration and the Border, Tom Pursglove, defends the measures, citing the need for a decisive reduction in migration. He affirms, “This is part of a series of measures which together will see 300,000 fewer people coming to the UK compared to last year.”

The Home Office contends that the changes strike a “right balance” to maintain the appeal of the UK’s higher education sector while preventing institutions from compromising the country’s reputation by prioritizing immigration over education. It assures collaboration with universities to devise an “alternative approach” for exceptional students to bring dependents while continuing the downward trajectory of net migration.

Simultaneously, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) will review the Graduate route or post-study work visa, a pivotal factor for Indian students choosing UK universities. Indian nationals constitute the largest group of students in the student visa category, comprising 43% of grants.

However, diaspora student groups express apprehension about the potential impact of this review on post-study work opportunities, which play a crucial role in the decision-making process for Indian students.

The Home Office defends the comprehensive approach, stating that the package of measures will result in the largest reduction ever, affecting around 300,000 people who came to the UK last year. These changes will be introduced gradually throughout early 2024, allowing affected individuals ample time to prepare for the upcoming adjustments.

Dr. Jasneet Bedi

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