Home secretary Suella Braverman is said to be considering tightening the rules regarding foreign students bringing their dependents to live with them in the UK, as well as the the eligibility criteria for UK family visa applicants. If the changes are approved by ministers, the minimum income threshold for foreign students with dependents will be increased from the current earnings of £680 per month. As a result, fewer foreign students will have visas granted by the Home Office to study at British universities. Consequently, herefore the government will be able to reduce the number of dependent visas they are circulating.
How are the Family Visa Requirements Changing in 2023?
At present, applicants to the UK family visa must be able to prove a combined income of at least £18,600 per year, as well as sufficient funding for dependents without British citizenship. This is set to change under Braverman’s power, on the condition that ministers agree it would be beneficial.
Couples hoping to move to the UK to enrol on the shortage occupation list will also find it harder to enter the country with their family, if they are low wage workers. The minimum salary thresholds for jobs on this list vary significantly, but some are as low as £18,000. The government plans to remove this low minimum figure, and to increase the minimum thresholds that do not meet their expectations.
Why is the Proposal a Concern & Who will be Affected?
The main reason that this proposal has been controversial is that it blocks immigration routes to talented foreign students hoping to access high-quality education. However, it could also have a significant impact on British students and employers, due to a potential lack of global talent in the country.
The purpose behind the new proposal is understandable, given that net migration hit a record of 504,000 in June, with 476,000 foreign students living in the UK in the midst of the cost-of-living crisis according to official estimates. Yet, denying gifted students from bringing their talents to the UK, simply because they want to bring their dependents with them, is a decision that seems to lack rationality.
International Students & their Dependents May Reconsider Studying in the UK
With rules surrounding dependent visas becoming stricter, it is likely that prospective foreign students will choose to go to other countries to earn their qualifications. Consequently, the UK would lose some of its most skilled graduates, which could lead to employee shortages in certain roles. It could also result in a lack of immigrants at UK universities. Ironically, just three years ago, the government was trying to battle this particular issue. The chief executive of Universities UK, Vivienne Stern, has used this as a powerful counter-argument to the new proposals.
In 2017/18, the government began attempts to increase the number of international students coming to the UK from 470,000 to a target number of 600,000 by 2030. The worry is that, if due to the plans, foreign students slowly fade from the British higher education, the country will quickly feel the effects of this loss, and we will have no choice but to set a new target for more global students.
Furthermore, families could be torn apart by this new proposal. Not every student wanting to move to the UK will be able to simply select another country to study in. Certain individuals will be desperate to enrol onto British courses that are essential for their career, and this may result in families being torn apart as students leave their dependents in their country of origin.
If students are planning on pursuing long term immigration in order to establish a secure financial situation for themselves and their family, this could lead to permanent damage in many families. Immigrants could change their immigration status from the student pathway to the skilled worker route seamlessly, but without the ability to secure a visa for their dependents, they would have to choose between financial security and family.
The Quality of British Higher Education is at Stake
Though there is debate surrounding the high cost of university in England and Wales compared to the rest of Europe, where it is unusual for higher education to be funded by public funds. There is no denying that the fees for foreign students are significantly higher, at £11,400-£38,000. British universities rely heavily on funding from global students, and it is impossible to know what the higher education system would look like without the enormous contributions from foreign students each year. According to a London Economics study, in 2018/2019, foreign students contributed £25.9 billion to the UK economy. With the introduction of Braverman’s harsh immigration rules, how low could these national statistics drop in the years to come?
Underfunded universities would primarily affect British students, who would have to deal with a lack of resources, a reduced quality of teaching, and overall, less of an incentive to study. However, it would also affect our economy; with fewer people gaining higher education qualifications, there could be a UK labour market crisis. Employers would be forced to hire underqualified staff, potentially leading to a decline in our productivity as a nation.
The plan to tackle foreign student immigration involving dependents did not emerge out of nowhere. In the past three years, the number of granted student dependents visas has risen from 13,664 (2019) to 81,089 (2022). It is understandable that the government would want to control the post Brexit immigration system, to prevent the economy from worsening, to strengthen local authorities, and to prioritise students who are UK citizens/British citizens.
Moreover, the approved dependent visas distribution shows a great inconsistency across different nationalities. For instance, in the year ending June 2022, there was a record high of Nigerian nationals being granted dependent visas (65,929, representing a whopping 40% of all approved student dependent visa.
That being said, Braverman’s drastic measures remain controversial. There is a difference between managing the UK population by monitoring net migration, and rejecting foreign students who are currently earning a minimal wage.
There are fears that the UK labour supply will be damaged by this new proposal, which would arguably produce more damaging effects than the growing population does. The annual population survey revealed an economic inactivity of 17.6% in 2022.