The government has announced a new set of measures to reduce the number of international students in the UK. The measures are expected to come into effect later this year and impact the January 2024 intake of University students.

In her statement of 23 May 2023, the Secretary of State introduced what she called “a package of measures to help deliver our goal of falling net migration, while supporting the Government's priority of growing the economy”. The package of changes to international student visa comprises:

  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 maintenance requirements for students and dependants.

Past measures included removing the right to bring dependants for undergraduate students. The current proposal will continue the same trend and will only allow dependants for PhD and possibly MPhil students.

An intriguing addendum to the package states that the government's 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. We will bring in this system as soon as possible, after thorough consultation with the sector and key stakeholders”.

It is to be understood that the “alternative approach” might gage the right to bring dependants on the student's academic performance (to ensure that the brightest are not separated from their families) or on the performance of the receiving University (our leading universities will offer this privilege whereas those lagging behind will first need to improve in excellence).

There is no further detail as to the changes to maintenance requirements.

Removing eligibility to switch into a work related route prior to completing studies will mainly impact students who dropped off from the course and whose visa was not duly curtailed through the inefficiency of the Home Office. The least able students will not be able to transition into any work permitting immigration route and will have to leave or, more likely, streamline into illegal status thus furthering the government's pledge to reduce net legal migration.

The right of students to switch to the partner route will remain unchanged.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan welcomed the “package” with the comment that “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”.

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