Ministers considering cap on
dependants for international

The UK’s recently revamped government is reportedly looking at ways to tighten the immigration rules to limit the number of dependants international students can bring to the UK. The idea is being considered by ministers as part of a wider plan to tackle so-called “bad migration”, and to ensure the immigration system supports growth whilst maintaining control.

Newly appointed Home Secretary Suella Braverman told the Tory party conference that her long term aim was to reduce net migration to the “tens of thousands,” an old government target previously axed by Boris Johnson.

International students have been identified by ministers as an area of concern, as Home Office data shows the number of dependents of foreign students granted visas has increased five-fold in just three years, from 13,664 in 2019 to 81,089 in the year ending June 2022. However, this increase goes hand-in-hand with a rise in the number of sponsored study visas being granted, with recent figures revealing the highest annual number of study visas granted on record, at over five times the number granted in 2019.

Cabinet Office minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News that whilst he recognises that international students are “a really positive thing for our universities, for our communities”, he believes it is not right for them to bring along five or six dependants because “we have to make sure that they’re coming to legitimately study here.”

The Home Secretary also hit out at international students, accusing the group of abusing the Student route as a means to bring relatives to the UK and that too many take “substandard courses in inadequate institutions”.

What are the current rules on dependants?

Under certain immigration routes, visa applicants are permitted to bring their immediate family members with them to the UK as their ‘dependants’, if they are eligible. Main applicants on a Student visa can apply to bring their partner and children with them as their dependants, as long as the main applicant is one of the following:

  • A full-time student on a postgraduate level course (RQF level 7 or above) that lasts 9 months or longer
  • A new government-sponsored student on a course that lasts longer than 6 months
  • A Doctorate Extension Scheme student.

A dependant partner or child is one of the following:

  • husband, wife or civil partner
  • unmarried partner
  • child under 18 years old.

Main applicants must provide evidence of their relationship with each dependant applicant, and each dependant must show that they have a certain amount of money available to support themselves in the UK.

Cap on dependants could ‘hurt economy’

The proposal to cap the number of dependants international students can bring to the UK has been met with widespread criticism. Experts suggest that discouraging students from coming to the UK could directly harm the economy by cutting off the huge financial contributions that the international student market brings to the higher education sector and the wider UK economy each year.

Research published by the Higher Education Policy Institute and Universities UK International in 2021 found that international students add a net economic benefit of £25.9bn across every part of the UK, along with a total £2.9bn spend on the use of public services.

Critics also argue that the government fails to recognise that in reality, the current rules mean it is not a ‘free pass’ for students to bring multiple family members to the UK. Each dependant family member a Student wishes to bring with them to the UK must pass the strict Home Office visa checks and prove that they have the funds to support themselves in the UK.

As well as paying the visa application fee and the Immigration Health Surcharge up front, each family member must show that they have £845 a month (for up to nine months) for courses in London or £680 a month (for up to nine months) for courses outside London. These costs, on top of the University fees international students must pay to study here, mean that an applicant would need to have significant financial reserves in order to make the Student route a viable option for relocating to the UK with ‘five or six’ dependants.

A spokesperson from Universities UK said: “The Home Secretary and Cabinet Office minister seem to be overlooking the fact that only postgraduate students can bring dependants.

“These students tend to be older and therefore more likely to have families, so putting up barriers to them bringing those loved ones with them is simply going to drive them to study elsewhere.

“We risk losing their huge contribution to research and the skilled economy, at a time when we need it most.”

What’s next?

The cap on dependants permitted under the Student route is just one potential solution the government is considering in order to clamp down on “bad migration”. However, a decision has not yet been made and any agreed changes will likely take some time to implement.

However, early indications suggest that the new Home Secretary will take a harder-line approach on immigration in general if she is to reach her aim of reducing net migration to the tens of thousands.

Help with applying for a Student visa

If you have been offered a place on a course by a licenced student sponsor and require assistance in applying for your Student visa, Smith Stone Walters can help.

To speak to an immigration expert, please contact us today.

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