Changes in the UK student visa

With the ever-changing landscape of international study and migration, governments and institutions alike are constantly refreshing their regulations to adhere to needs and goals within their sectors. This is exactly the case with the United Kingdom’s net migration situation. The government has recently introduced and implemented new rules to address the sharp rise in the population of immigrants in the country. In June 2023, the region received 968,000 non-EU long-term arrivals. That’s over two and a half times more than the number recorded in 2019 (368,000). Additionally, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has estimated that the net migration from June 2022 to June 2023 alone was at 672,000. Of these new implementations, there are new student rules UK based students (and those looking to pursue education in the region) should be informed about. In this article, we’ll go through everything one must know about this recent regulation.

UK new rules for student visa holders

Effective 1 January 2024, international students starting their courses will no longer be able to bring family members. This, however, doesn’t apply to those on postgraduate research courses and courses with government-funded scholarships. This restriction was initially announced by the UK government in May 2023. They explained that these “changes to student dependant rules are part of a wider package of measures to come into force that will drastically bring down the high numbers of migrants coming to the UK to sustainable levels, and crack down on those who take advantage of the flexibility of the UK’s immigration system.”

The UK government explains its decision

This implementation updates the rules for Tier 4 student in UK or general student visa holders. It aims to address the fact that the majority of the increase in non-EU arrivals from 2019 to 2023 occurred through the study and work routes. The Migration Observatory explains that “the largest single group explaining the rise was international students and their dependants, accounting for 43% of the increase from 2019 to the year ending June 2023. The UK has an explicit strategy of increasing and diversifying foreign student recruitment, and it is also plausible that the reintroduction of post-study work rights post-Brexit has made the UK more attractive to international students.”

Additionally, the Minister for Legal Migration and the Border Tom Pursglove MP said: “[o]ur world-leading universities rightly attract some of the brightest students from around the world to the UK. But we have seen a surge in the number of dependants being brought by students, which is contributing to unsustainable levels of migration.”

The UK government states that it “remains committed to the International Education Strategy …. balancing the commitment to lower overall levels of migration with ensuring those coming to the UK are highly skilled and provide the most benefit to [the] economy.” They will work with universities to “design an alternative approach, in order to continue to attract the brightest and the best to the UK, and so they can bring dependents to the UK’s world-leading universities, while continuing to reduce net migration.”

Reactions to the UK new rules for international students

The UK new rules for international students has stirred conversations. People generally referred to it as a “tough” new restriction. The Economic Times says that “[d]iaspora student groups have expressed concerns about the proposed review of the post-study work visa, a vital factor for Indian students choosing UK universities”.

Chief executive of the UK Council for International Student Affairs Anne Marie Graham has expressed her disappointment to see the policy take effect. She acknowledged the rationale behind the change. However, she notes that it would “disproportionately affect potential international students who are unable to travel with dependants and will mean that they choose to study elsewhere.”

Meanwhile, director of Universities UK International Jamie Arrowsmith said that “more information is needed on the [programs] that are in scope before a proper assessment of the impact can be made.” But he also urges the government to work with the sector to “limit and monitor the impact on particular groups of students – and on universities, which are already under serious financial pressures.”

While this new policy has been received with concern and critique, stakeholders must give it ample time to unfold and take effect, while holding the responsible parties accountable, before immediately jumping into negative mindsets. The best thing to do as of the moment is to stay vigilant about the effects of the new restriction and act accordingly.

To learn more about how to support international students eyeing the UK as their study destination, consult with our business development managers today.

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