Tougher international student visa norms come into force in the UK

London: International students, including Indians, starting courses at British universities this month will no longer be able to bring family members on all but postgraduate research courses and courses with government-funded scholarships under tougher UK visa norms effective from Monday.

The UK Home Office said the changes, first announced by former home secretary Suella Braverman in May last year, are aimed at clamping down on people using the student visa as a backdoor route to work in the UK and will see an estimated 140,000 fewer people come to the UK.

The tougher rules are geared towards cutting what Home Secretary James Cleverly dubbed as an “unreasonable practice” of overseas students bringing dependants, which official figures show have risen by more than 930 per cent since 2019.

The same salary amount will apply to those applying under the family visa category, which currently stands at GBP 18,600.

“Immigration policy must be fair, consistent, legal, and sustainable,” Cleverly told the Parliament.

In total, this package plus our reduction in student dependants will mean around 300,000 fewer people will come in future years than have come to the UK last year, he said.

The five-point plan laid out by the minister, who took over at the Home Office after Suella Braverman was sacked by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last month, will come into effect from the first half of 2024.

Certain student visa crackdowns had already been tabled by Braverman in May, which banned international students from bringing dependant family members unless they are on postgraduate courses designated as a research programme.

Going further on student visas, Cleverly said he will ask the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to also review the Graduate Route visa “to prevent abuse and protect the integrity and quality of UK higher education”, indicating that a similar crackdown on dependants on that post-study route may also be in the offing.

Besides, he said the government wants to “scrap cut-price shortage labour from overseas” by reforming the way people working in short-staffed sectors can apply to come to the UK.

This will include axing the 20 per cent discount applied to the minimum salary for people looking for a visa for shortage occupations on MAC’s Shortage Occupation List. The types of jobs on the list will also be reviewed and reduced.

The latest visa crackdown comes in the wake of record-high immigration figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) earlier this month, which revealed that net migration to the UK stood at 672,000.

The official statistics also showed that India dominates the tally of skilled workers, medical professionals and students from overseas. While the Health and Care visa figures registered a 76 per cent rise in Indian applicants, the Skilled Worker route saw a small decline of 11 per cent to drop from 20,360 visas in the year ending September 2022 to 18,107 in the year ending this September.

In the student visa category, Indian nationals continued to represent the largest group of students granted leave to remain on the relatively new post-study Graduate visa route, representing 43 per cent of grants.

And, there were 133,237 sponsored study visa grants to Indian nationals in the year ending September 2023, a small increase of 5,804 (+5 per cent) compared to the year ending September 2022.

On the dependant visa front, Indian nationals had the second highest number of dependants after Nigeria, increasing from 2,127 to 43,445 in the year ending September 2023.