Diksha Dinde, 29, is relieved that she didn’t postpone her application to study in the UK for the 2022-23 academic year. “As a person with a disability, I depend greatly on my partner for my daily tasks.” On a WhatsApp group chat, Dinde, who hails from Pune and doing her Masters in Governance, Development, and Public Policy at The Institute of Development Studies, learnt that the UK government is to bring forth a policy limiting students from bringing their dependents with them. For Dinde, who got married only a month before she travelled to the UK, coming to the UK alone and living without the support of her spouse would have been unfeasible.
“The pressure of academics is such that it is not possible without the help, and despite getting a scholarship, I would have struggled here. Half the time, I need help with activities in the house and for going out.”Diksha Dinde, 29
She and her husband, a graphic designer by profession, were discussing the new policy promised by the British government as one to limit immigration numbers.
“We were discussing that if this policy had come last year, I wouldn't have been able to survive here.”
The New Immigration Rules: Fear And Anxiety Among Students
According to a statement released by the Home Office, led by Home Secretary Suella Braverman, non-research post-graduation students from overseas, including India, will no longer be permitted to have their family members or dependents accompany them to the UK. The Home Office said the regulations will be enacted in January 2024.
“Around 1,36,000 visas were granted to dependants of sponsored students in the year ending December 2022, a more than eight-fold increase from 16,000 in 2019, when the Government’s commitment to lower net migration was made,” said Braverman.
Reacting to this, the UK Home Office introduced a new immigration regulation, which will be enacted in January 2024, prohibiting international students from bringing their family members to the country on a student visa on all but postgraduate research routes. On top of this, overseas students can only switch from the student visa route to the work route once their studies are completed to prevent misuse of the visa system.
The current graduate visa rules allow postgraduate students to reside in the UK with their dependents, stay for two more years after completing their course and pay for a post-study graduate visa.
“Around 1,36,000 visas were granted to dependants of sponsored students in the year ending December 2022, a more than eight-fold increase from 16,000 in 2019, when the Government’s commitment to lower net migration was made.”Suella Braverman, UK Home Secretary
This news has unsurprisingly instilled a sense of fear and anxiety amongst prospective Indian students planning to pursue their studies in the UK and hoping to bring along their spouses, children or parents.
Sameer Rashid Bhatt (26), a PhD Scholar at the University of Oxford and co-founder of Project EduAccess, a non-profit initiative aimed at increasing access to higher education and creating opportunities for learners from marginalised communities in South Asia, believes that while the UK continues to be the main attraction for students from South Asia with its similar education structure, the new regulations could be highly impactful.
“Universities in the UK are supportive of having families with the students. This new regulation will force students to split their time between the university and at home. Many bring their families here, which helps them holistically.” Bhatt stated that the regulations could be a detriment for students coming to the UK. “It may also affect the UK’s reputation as a convenient location for many.”
UK, Not a Favourable Student Destination
General Secretary of the University and College Union Jo Grady called Braverman's proposal “deeply shameful," referred to it as a "vindictive move,” and said:
“Deep concern is already being felt across the sector as to how damaging the package of measures could be to the pipeline of international talent coming to the UK".
“We got married last year, and we both felt that this was the opportunity for me to come to the UK for the 2024-25 batch. But the new regulation is making me rethink my decision. If my wife cannot accompany me, then I will have to take a couple of trips back to India to meet her, which will not be financially feasible for me."Namit Jain, 27
Jain is already considering going to the USA and believes many will also seek alternatives.
Alok Bansal (53), an international studies counsellor and consultant based in Delhi, shares a similar sentiment and claims that the new regulation has already demotivated potential students. “Many of them were already uncomfortable with the economic situation in Europe. With this regulation, they are uncertain about studying in the UK. This makes countries like the USA, France, and Ireland good alternative destinations.
The UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS), in its online census conducted for England and Wales in March 2021, found that Indians made up the highest number of the non-UK student population with 43,175 enrolments, followed by China with 41,810 enrolments. Given the new regulation, whether this number is set to drop will be seen next year as the first batch of students prohibited from bringing dependents on a UK student visa applies for 2024-25 entry.