The British government has announced visa restrictions that will affect international students and their families as the Conservative government led by Rishi Sunak seeks to curb rising immigration, especially after Brexit.
Between June 2021 and June 2022, the United Kingdom recorded record levels of immigration of half a million people, and further figures are expected to be released this week to continue the upward trend.
And while British universities attract thousands of international students every year, visa restrictions will “significantly reduce” the number of immigrants by “reducing the ability for international students to bring family members with them,” the government said in a statement.
Under the measures, which will begin in January, only graduate students in research programs, meaning they typically last more than two years, will be able to bring their family members.
Students will not be allowed to obtain a work visa instead of a student visa until they complete their studies.
The government has vowed to take action against “unscrupulous agents” who use student visas as a means of immigration.
Authorities issued about 136,000 student visas in 2022, up from 16,000 in 2019, according to official figures.
The move has raised concerns among prestigious universities, which fear losing an important source of income as international students often pay exorbitant tuition fees to enroll.
The Russell Group, which represents academic institutions such as Cambridge and Oxford, said the government’s actions could affect efforts to diversify international students.
Immigration was the focus of the campaign that led to the UK’s vote to leave the European Union in 2016, but the Conservatives who came to power failed to bring down legal and illegal immigration.
While the government is seeking to reduce the number of immigrants, the country has faced labor shortages since Brexit, especially in agriculture and healthcare, and Sunak recently acknowledged the need to issue tens of thousands of seasonal visas to compensate for the shortage in agriculture, in a position that contradicts the view. Home Secretary Soyla Braverman, the latter told ultra-conservatives ahead of the conference, she sees no reason why “the United Kingdom shouldn’t be able to arm itself with super-powered truck drivers and fruit pickers to cut down on immigration.”