Immigration crackdown on
families of international

On 23 May 2023, Home Secretary Suella Braverman made a statement to Parliament setting out a package of immigration reforms which aim to crackdown on rising net migration figures. The measures aim to help the Conservative government deliver its goal of reducing net migration, as promised in the party’s 2019 manifesto.

The changes will impose further restrictions on international students and their families, after recent immigration figures showed an ‘unexpected rise’ in the number of dependants coming to the UK alongside Student visa applicants.

Around 136,000 visas were granted to dependants of sponsored students in the year ending December 2022, a more than eight-fold increase from 16,000 in 2019, when the Government’s commitment to lower net migration was made.

Currently, full-time students studying courses that last for 9 months or more at postgraduate level or above are permitted to bring dependants to the UK with them. The new restrictions would remove this right for all international students, except those studying postgraduate courses that are currently designated as research programmes.

The government also intend to ban people from using the Student visa as a ‘backdoor route’ to work in the UK by removing the ability for students to switch to a work route before they have completed their studies.

Announcing the reforms, the Home Secretary said: “The UK is a top destination for the brightest students to learn at some of the world’s best universities. But we have seen an unprecedented rise in the number of student dependents being brought into the country with visas.

It is time for us to tighten up this route to ensure we can cut migration numbers and meet the government’s pledge to the British people to cut net migration. This is the fair thing to do to allow us to better protect our public services, while supporting the economy by allowing the students who contribute the most to keep coming here.”

The government has also made clear that the terms of the Graduate route remain unchanged.

What are the changes?

The full package of reforms affecting the Student route includes:

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

Next steps

The changes will come into effect for those starting their courses from January 2024, to give international students time to plan ahead.

The government has also reaffirmed its commitment to the International Education Strategy which plays an important part in supporting the economy through the economic contribution students can bring to the UK.

The government has committed to work with the higher education sector to explore alternative options to ensure the brightest and best students can continue to bring dependants when they study at the UK’s world-leading universities.

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