How Will UK Visa Changes Impact Indians? Former Students Weigh In

The minimum income required to bring dependents on a work visa has jumped from 18,600 pounds a year to 29,000 pounds.

Indians represent a significant portion of non-EU immigration into the UK.

As part of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's plan to control immigration numbers, the UK government on Thursday implemented an increase in the minimum income threshold required to sponsor a family member's visa in the country as a 'dependent'.

The move, which follows recent changes in the United Kingdom's Work, Study and Graduate Route (post-study work) visas, has reignited apprehensions within the Indian diaspora because of tightening eligibility conditions and increased restrictions. Indians constitute the largest group granted study and work visas in the United Kingdom and people who have studied in the country say it is bound to have an adverse impact.

Sanam Arora, founder and chairperson of the National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU) UK, said, "The Graduate visa is a key requirement of Indian students, and a critical offer of the UK's international higher education system."

On the social implications of dependents being snubbed, Anahita Masters, an Alumni of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), said, "Restrictions on post-graduate research students bringing dependents is a huge setback to all students with dependents, particularly women."

The minimum income required to bring dependents on a work visa jumped from 18,600 pounds (approximately Rs 19 lakh) a year to 29,000 pounds (approximately Rs 30 lakh, a 55 per cent rise), with a subsequent increase to 38,700 pounds (approximately Rs 40 lakh) planned for early next year. Moreover, social care workers are not allowed to bring any dependents, irrespective of income level.

This is the newest addition to a slew of restrictive visa rules. Starting January this year, people on student visas can no longer bring dependents to the UK. Additionally, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has been commissioned to review the Graduate route visa, which allows international students to stay in the UK for 2 years after graduating to find employment without requiring sponsorship. MAC is tasked with finding if the visa has any significant purpose, suggesting necessary changes, and potentially voting to discontinue it.

Immigration statistics in 2023 reflected that more than 3 lakh Indians received Work visas (skilled and seasoned workers). The number was 61% higher than in the previous year. Meanwhile, over 1.2 lakh received Student visas, making up 11.6% of all international students in the UK.

On the threat of the Graduate route visa being shelved, Ms Arora said, "Without the Graduate route, university finances may collapse. The impact of this will be felt not just by international students but also by students from the UK, given that domestic students and the world-class research that happens in the country's universities are heavily cross-subsidised by international students."

Another aspect is the possible disadvantage faced by sole breadwinners and Indian women, especially mothers. Sharing her experience, Ms Masters said she could study at the LSE because the dependent clause was in place.

"Studying at the LSE as a mature student and a mother of a 3-year-old would not have been possible for me had it not been for the dependent clause. The change to remove this clause for Master's level students is a huge setback to all students with dependents, particularly women, as young children cannot be expected to live apart from their mothers for a year or more," she said.