The United Kingdom's visa reforms designed to curb migration by restricting postgraduate students from bringing dependents or using their academic status as a conduit to employment will plug immigration loopholes and close a backdoor to work, a minister has said.
"The significant rise in students bringing family members is putting untenable pressure on public services," Suella Braverman, the country's Home Secretary, said on Twitter. "Tightening the student route will help to cut migration by restricting post-graduate students from bringing dependents or using the route as a backdoor to work."
The UK government announced new immigration rules on Tuesday aimed at restricting the number of family members that international students can bring into the country. The move is part of a broader effort to curb a sharp rise in visas granted to dependents of students.
Ms Braverman said in a statement to the House of Commons that the rules would now only allow family members of international students on postgraduate research programmes to join them in Britain.
The new policy comes after the number of visas issued to student dependents jumped eightfold to 136,000 in the year ending December 2022, up from 16,000 in 2019.
"This package includes: removing the right for international students to bring dependents unless they are on postgraduate courses currently designated as research programmes," Ms Braverman said.
Other measures include preventing international students from switching to work visas before completing their studies and reviewing the financial requirements for students and their dependents.
The UK government also plans to increase enforcement against education agents suspected of aiding in the submission of inappropriate applications.
Ms Braverman clarified that the terms of the graduate route, which allows students to stay in the UK to gain work experience after their studies, remain unchanged.
"We are committed to attracting the brightest and the best to the UK. Therefore, our intention is to work with universities over the course of the next year to design an alternative approach that ensures that the best and the brightest students can bring dependants to our world-leading universities while continuing to reduce net migration," she said.
The newly minted regulations, which will go into effect starting January 2024, are expected to drastically reduce the number of postgraduate students who can bring their spouses or children to the UK, slashing the limit from the current 30,000 to 10,000 per year.
This change comes as the UK's net migration figures are expected to show a significant increase from 504,000 between June 2021 and June 2022. The Conservative Party-led government has pledged to reduce immigration following the UK's exit from the European Union.
Jamie Arrowsmith, Director of Universities UK International (UUKi), the representative body for 140 UK universities, voiced concern about the impact of these changes on female students and those from specific countries.
"We, therefore, urge 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," he said.
UUKi welcomed the government's commitment to maintaining the Graduate route visa, which lets students stay and gain work experience in the UK for up to three years after their degree.
Indians recently overtook the Chinese as the leading nationality granted study visas to the UK, with the majority accessing the visa launched in July 2021. Nigerian students, however, top the list of those bringing dependents, followed by Indians.