UK to Restrict Family Visas for International Postgraduate Students in Effort to Reduce Net Migration

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In a bid to curb the record-high net migration levels witnessed in recent years, the United Kingdom announced on Tuesday that it would eliminate the right of certain international students to bring their family members into the country. The move, which comes as part of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s commitment to reducing legal migration, aims to address concerns about the misuse of student visas as a means to secure employment in the UK. These measures specifically target postgraduate students, excluding those enrolled in research programs.

According to the interior ministry, the new regulations will substantially reduce migration figures while safeguarding public services and supporting the economy by allowing the most impactful student contributors to continue studying in the country. Under the existing rules, postgraduate students enrolled in courses lasting nine months or longer can bring their partners and children to the UK. However, the government highlighted a staggering eightfold increase in the number of dependents, reaching 136,000 individuals in 2022, compared to 2019 figures.

Scheduled to take effect from January next year, the restrictions precede the release of the annual net migration estimates for 2022, which are expected to reflect a record-breaking figure of 504,000 individuals. While no specific target has been provided, Interior Minister Suella Braverman expressed optimism that the numbers would eventually return to pre-pandemic levels in the medium term. Braverman also emphasized the long-standing concerns about high levels of legal migration and the strain placed on public services, which played a significant role in the Brexit referendum in 2016.

In addition to limiting family visas, the UK government will also eliminate the ability of international students to switch from the student route to work routes before completing their studies. Student visas constituted the largest proportion of migration to the UK, with 486,000 visas issued last year alone, according to the interior ministry.

The decision to tighten regulations surrounding international postgraduate students reflects the government’s determination to fulfill its electoral promises before the anticipated elections next year. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has consistently highlighted the need to reduce overall migration levels and explore various avenues to achieve this goal. By focusing on curbing student visa misuse and limiting the influx of dependents, the government aims to strike a balance between protecting public services and supporting the economy through the contributions of the most significant student cohorts.

As the UK prepares for these policy changes, the impact on its higher education sector and its attractiveness to international students remains to be seen. While the government seeks to manage migration levels, it will also need to ensure that the country maintains its reputation as a welcoming destination for international students, with an education system that continues to thrive on diverse perspectives and contributions from around the world.

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