The UK government has announced proposals to curb further the ability for foreign students to bring their families with them to the UK, as part of the government's overall plan to reduce net migration. But what does this policy actually mean, how much of an impact is it going to have, and does it have indirect consequences the government hasn't even considered?
The statement was made in Parliament on Tuesday of this week (May 23) by Lord Murray of Blidworth, The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, further to the Home Secretary's Ministerial Statement.
The package of proposals includes the following measures:
1. Removing the right for international students to bring dependants unless they are on postgraduate courses currently designated as research programmes.
2. Removing the ability for international students to switch out of the student route into work routes before their studies have been completed.
3. Reviewing the financial requirements for students and dependants.
4. Steps to clamp down on unscrupulous education agents in this sphere.
5. Better communicating immigration rules to the higher education sector and to international students.
6. Improved and more targeted enforcement activity.
Between 2019 and December 2002, there has reportedly been an eight fold increase in the number of visas issued to dependants of student visa holders. But Brexit also happened during this time, as well as the pandemic, which saw many families separated for considerable periods of time. How much of a difference this is going to make when already the policy for dependants is restricted to postgraduate students remains to be seen, but the message to international students and the publicity around it may deter them from applying to UK universities if they feel unwelcome.
What is even more of a concern about the proposed policy is the potentially discriminatory effect, as it is likely to disproportionately affect women who have dependant children and people from certain countries such as Nigeria, India and Pakistan who had the highest number of dependants of student visa holders in 2022. Having dependants does not mean these people are not 'the brightest and the best'. The government is concerned about net migration figures but the net effect could be that the government ends up driving away exactly the students it really wants to attract.