New restrictions on visas for students and their dependents

In last issue’s article we talked about how net migration to the UK in 2022 was over 600,000 people. Net migration is the result of the number of migrants entering the country (immigrating) minus the number of migrants leaving (emigrating).

Faced with this shocking figure, and without any prior consultation, the government came out and said that one of the measures it would take to reduce the number of migrants would be to restrict the ability of international students to bring family members to the UK, with the exception of those coming to study for PhDs.

The government also spoke of the “need to remove the ability of international students to switch from the student route to work routes before they have completed their studies” and to review the minimum amount of money that people wishing to come to the UK to study must have.

In the government’s own words “The new government restrictions on student visa routes will substantially reduce net migration“. Note the word “substantially“.

The government assumes that many of the people who come to study in the UK are either intending to stay and live here long term, or are simply not genuine students but people who want to come to work. This is not the case. In fact, according to a study by the Office for National Statistics, 61% of non-EU students left once they had finished their studies in the academic year ending 2019. Most of the remaining 39% obtained additional visas, or received visa extensions. Whilst it is true that some students stay illegally when they finish their studies and that some others were never genuine students, these are the minority, and do not represent the current state of student visas. In the same document the Office for National Statistics also mentions that “with the increase in immigration of those on study-related visas over the last two years, we are now seeing an increase in emigration as these students reach the end of their studies“.

The government’s response to impose new restrictions on students and their dependents is unconscionable and unfounded. It is the reaction of a desperate government, which does not want to look weak and which wants to show the electorate that it has immigration under control, all in view of the 2025 election.

While it is true that the announced measures will see a reduction in the number of students and their dependents, it is also true that these new restrictions will not “substantially reduce net migration” as visas for students and their dependents are only one piece in the larger puzzle of immigration to the UK. The government repeats the mantra of being “committed to attracting the best and brightest to the UK” but these measures will achieve the opposite: many students will simply prefer to study elsewhere.

Manuel Padilla Behar is a solicitor specialising in immigration law and is the owner of MPB Solicitors. You can contact him here.

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