New government restrictions to student visa routes will substantially cut net migration by restricting the ability for international students to bring family members on all but post-graduate research routes and banning people from using a student visa as a backdoor route to work in the UK.
The ONS estimated that net migration was over 500,000 from June 2021 to June 2022. Although partly attributed to the rise in temporary factors, such as the UK's Ukraine and Hong Kong schemes, last year almost half a million student visas were issued while the number of dependants of overseas students has increased by 750% since 2019, to 136,000 people.
The government has also reaffirmed its commitment to the International Education Strategy which plays an important part in supporting the economy through the economic contribution students can bring to the UK.
However, this should not be at the expense of the government's commitment to the public to lower overall migration and ensure that migration to the UK is highly skilled and provides the most benefit.
Today's proposals to the student visa route allow the government to continue to meet its International Education Strategy commitments, while making a tangible contribution to reducing net migration to sustainable levels. The government has also made clear that the terms of the graduate route remain unchanged.
The new reforms will come into effect for students starting in January next year. The government will however work with the higher education sector to explore alternative options to ensure the brightest and best students can continue to bring dependents when they study at the UK's world-leading universities.
To prevent misuse of the visa system, overseas students will be stopped from switching from the student visa route into work routes until their studies have been completed.
The government will also review the funds students must have to demonstrate they can look after themselves and their dependants in the UK, as well as clamp down on unscrupulous international student agents who may be supporting inappropriate applications.
Taken together with the easing of temporary factors, net migration is expected to fall considerably over the medium term. As such, the changes to student visas strike the right balance in supporting the UK economy, including world-leading education institutions, and upholding the government's commitment to reducing overall net migration.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman said:
The UK is a top destination for the brightest students to learn at some of the world's best universities. But we have seen an unprecedented rise in the number of student dependents being brought into the country with visas.
It is time for us to tighten up this route to ensure we can cut migration numbers and meet the government's pledge to the British people to cut net migration. This is the fair thing to do to allow us to better protect our public services, while supporting the economy by allowing the students who contribute the most to keep coming here.
The proposals announced today do not detract from the success of the government's International Education Strategy, including meeting the target to host 600,000 international higher education students studying in the UK each year by 2030, for two years running.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said:
Attracting the top students from around the world isn't just good for our universities - it's essential for our economy and building vital global relationships.
But the number of family members being brought to the UK by students has risen significantly. It is right we are taking action to reduce this number while maintaining commitment to our International Education Strategy, which continues to enrich the UK's education sector and make a significant contribution to the wider economy.
Following the UK leaving the EU, the government introduced a points-based immigration system, giving the government full control of the country's borders, which is designed to flex to the needs of the economy and labour market and ensure we have the skills and talent needed by UK businesses and the NHS.
The government keeps its immigration policies under review to ensure they are delivering on commitments to the public on net migration.