On 23rd May 2023, former Home Secretary Suella Braverman announced in a written statement that the government would be “removing the right for international students to bring dependants unless they are on postgraduate courses currently designated as research programmes”. These restrictions were introduced as a response to the government's aim to reduce net migration to the UK, whilst maintaining its promise made under the International Education Strategy  to increase the number of international students in UK higher education to 600,000 each year by 2030.

The announcement was confirmed in the government's Statement of Changes on 17th July 2023, which set out the amendments to the Student Visa application process, the rights of Student dependants, and the transition from the Student Visa to work visas. The changes affect students who applied after 3pm on 17th July 2023 for a course starting on or after 1st January 2024.

This blog will explore the reduced privileges of Student dependants as a result of these changes. 

Which Students Can Still Bring Dependents?

If a student commenced their studies on or after 01 January 2024, only the following types of students are permitted to bring dependants to the UK: 

  1. A government-sponsored student studying a course that lasts more than 6 months; or,
  2. A full-time student on a postgraduate level course (RQF level 7 or above) that lasts 9 months or longer. The sponsoring institution must have a ‘track record of compliance', which is shown on the register of sponsors.” The postgraduate level course must be classed as one of the following:
  • A PhD or doctorate degree (RFQ Level 8); or,
  • A research-based higher degree.

What if I plan to study for a Bachelor or Master's degree in the UK?

Those studying a non-research based Master's degree can no longer sponsor their dependants under the Student Visa route. Previously, students studying any Master's degree would be eligible to bring over dependants, as a Master's degree is considered RFQ Level 7. However, those applying after 01 January 2024 now have to show that the course is ‘research-based'. 

With regards to undergraduate study, only Bachelor students who are on a government-sponsored programme, of at least 6 months, will be able to bring dependents to the UK. This has remained the same as the previous rules. For the previous Student dependant rules and for those whose courses began before 01 January 2024, please see our blog post on the Student Visa.

What is a ‘Research-Based Higher Degree'?

Paragraph 6 of the Immigration Rules  defines ‘a research-based degree' as “a postgraduate programme comprising a research component (including a requirement to produce original work) that is larger than any accompanying taught component when measured by student effort”. Essentially, it would involve a course which requires a higher amount of student research in comparison to taught study. 

When applying for a Student Visa, you are required to obtain a ‘Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies' (CAS). This is an electronic record that the sponsor University produces for the Home Office to verify your place at the university. For some universities, such as the University of Cambridge, the CAS will confirm if your course is considered ‘research-based'.

What is a Government-Sponsored Student?

Along with those studying a PhD or ‘research-based higher degree', those who are government-sponsored students studying a course that lasts 6 months or more, can also apply to bring dependants to the UK. This means that the fees for the course you are studying in the UK must be covered by a scholarship, including your maintenance costs.

As set out in The Student and Child Student caseworker guidance, in order to be eligible to bring dependants on a scholarship the scholarship must be:

  • a government funded scholarship;
  • from a central government department; and,
  • cover all fees and living costs for the student.

Student Dependant Extension Applications 

Student Dependants Granted Permission  Prior to 01 January 2024

If the Student commenced their course prior to January 2024, and provided the dependant was initially granted permission as a Student dependant, they will be able to apply for an extension to their visa. This applies, even where the Student does not fall into one of the exceptions in the new rules. The new rules do not apply to those who commenced their studies before 01 January 2024, even at the extension stage. You must continue to meet the relevant requirements for a Student dependant. You can find further information regarding the preserved Student dependent requirements in this blog post.

Student Dependants Granted Permission  After 01 January 2024

If the Student meets the conditions under the new rules for bringing a dependant, and their dependant has been granted a visa, the dependant will be able to apply for an extension through the same means as those who applied prior to 01 January 2024. 

Student Dependants Seeking to Extend Their Stay When the Student Applies for a Graduate Visa 

Whether the Student commenced their course before or after 01 January 2024, so long as the dependant was initially granted leave as a Student dependant, the Immigration Rules allow them to extend their stay as dependents. The main Student must be granted permission to stay as a Graduate in order for the dependant to extend their leave under this route.

New dependents are not permitted on the Graduate route, except for where a dependent child is born in the UK during a period of Student or Graduate leave. Please see our blog post on the Graduate Visa for more information on this exception.

Note that, in December 2023, the government announced that they plan on reviewing the Graduate route in order to maintain their aim of reducing migration to the UK, so this may be subject to change.

FAQs:

If I was offered a course prior to 01 January 2024 but deferred to start after 01 January, do the new rules apply to my dependants?

Even if you were offered a place on a course which commenced prior to 01 January 2024, but deferred your start date until after this date, you will be subject to the new dependant rules. 

If I study one of the eligible courses, do I need to make my Student application at the same time as my dependant's application?

If you are eligible to apply, your dependant can either make their application at the same time as you or separately. However, if the dependant wishes to apply separately, they must ensure that the Student has been granted permission as a Student prior to applying. This is the same for those applying before or after 01 January 2024.

If I am granted a Student dependant visa, can I work and study?

If you are a dependant over the age of 16, there are no restrictions on the type of work you can do in the UK, subject to the following exceptions:

  • You cannot work as a trainee doctor or dentist; and,
  • You cannot work as a professional sportsperson or coach.

There are no study restrictions for Student dependants.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.