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UK Bans Foreign Students From Bringing Family: What Are the New Rules? Why Now?

Experts hit out at the move and said that it will likely have a “disproportionate impact on women and students."

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South Asians
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In response to the surge in immigration numbers, the United Kingdom (UK) Home Office has introduced new immigration regulations for international students, prohibiting them from bringing their family members to the country.

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.

This policy change is widely perceived as an effort by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Braverman to manage the influx of migrants into the country. Sunak claimed that this measure would significantly contribute to reducing migration numbers.

The implementation of these new rules occurred just days prior to the highly-anticipated release of migration statistics by the UK Home Office, which is projected to reveal a staggering figure of 700,000 migrants for the year 2022-23.

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Braverman's Statement to Parliament 

In a written statement to the House of Commons, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said that the revised regulations only impact immigration rules for international students.

As per the updated guidelines, only students enrolled in postgraduate courses specifically classified as research programs will be privileged to bring their family members, including children and elderly parents, as dependents to the country.

“This package includes: removing the right for international students to bring dependants unless they are on postgraduate courses currently designated as research programmes,” Braverman said, in a written statement.

However, the current graduate visa rules allowed master's students to have their partners and children accompany them to the UK, and they were permitted to stay in the country for 24 months after completing the students' courses.

Despite the crackdown, Ms Braverman insisted that the government would work with universities to deliver an “alternative approach” to ensure “the best and the brightest students can bring dependants”.

However, Braverman insisted that the Conservative government would work with universities to develop an alternative approach to restrictions on overseas student immigration.

“The terms of the graduate route remain unchanged… We are committed to attracting the brightest and the best to the UK. Therefore, our 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,” Braverman said.

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What Is the Government’s Rationale?

The decision to implement stricter immigration measures for international students comes when the Rishi Sunak government grapples with an unprecedented migration surge to the UK, despite the Conservative Party's commitment to reducing overall numbers.

“We have seen an unprecedented rise in the number of student dependants 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".
Suella Braverman, Home Secretary

Braverman emphasised that this step is necessary to protect public services while continuing to welcome students who make substantial contributions to the economy.

In addition to the new regulations, the minister pledged measures to address unscrupulous education agents who may be facilitating improper applications with a focus on immigration rather than genuine education purposes.

The need for these measures was highlighted by the UK's migration statistics, which revealed that approximately 136,000 visas were issued to dependents of sponsored students till December 2022, marking an eight-fold increase from 16,000 in 2019.

The imminent release of the UK's latest net migration figures is predicted to show a significant rise from 504,000 between June 2021 and 2022. This increase occurs despite the Conservative Party-led government's commitment to reducing immigration following the Brexit referendum.

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‘Deeply Shameful’ Move With ‘Disproportionate Impact’: Experts Hit Out

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".

“Those who choose to study in the UK, no matter where they are from, bring huge value to our society and deserve the right to live alongside their loved ones. Instead, they are being treated with contempt," Grady added.

Meanwhile, Jamie Arrowsmith, director of Universities UK International, said that changes to the dependents rule will likely have a “disproportionate impact on women and students from certain countries.” Arrowsmith said:

“We urge the government to work with the sector to limit and monitor the impact on particular groups of students – and on universities, which are already under serious financial pressures. The review process that has been announced must consider these issues.”

Marley Morris, a migration expert from the IPPR think tank, has criticised the decision to target students and their dependents, considering it to be a mistake and told The Independent that the majority of international students are temporary migrants who do not significantly contribute to net migration in the long run.

However, 10 Downing Street and Tory leadership have both defended the Home Secretary's call and said that it is in line with the government's aim to bring down immigration numbers.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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