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Posted June 20, 2023

What do the UK visa changes mean for international postgraduate students?


UK visa changes for international studentsIn May 2023, the UK government announced some major changes to visas for overseas students.

The changes, which will be implemented in January 2024, mean that under new immigration rules international postgraduate students studying non-research courses at a UK university will no longer be able to bring dependent family members with them to the UK under the terms of their study visa.

Also, under the new rules, international students will no longer be able to switch directly from a student visa to a skilled worker visa before graduation.

These new rules come into effect in January 2024 and will apply to study visas for the academic year 2024/25.

In a recent statement made by Home Secretary Suella Braverman, “The Government committed to bringing net migration down in the 2019 manifesto and remains committed to doing so.” And according to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, these new curbs should help to bring migration down.

What does this mean for international postgraduate students?

International postgraduate students are much more likely to have dependents than undergraduate students, and therefore they are traditionally more likely to want to bring dependents to the UK for the duration of their studies. From January 2024, the Home Office has removed the right for postgraduate students studying a taught postgraduate program to bring dependents with them.

International students studying an MPhil or a PhD course will still be able to bring dependents to the UK, as these new restrictions only apply to taught masters students.

There is also going to be a ban on international students switching from study visas to work visas – and this change will affect all international students.

How many dependents currently come to the UK on sponsored study visas?

According to Home Office statistics, the number of dependents coming to the UK with foreign students has increased significantly over the last few years.

In the year ending September 2022, 116,321 (20%) of sponsored study-related visas issued were to family members of students, this is compared to just 16,047 (6%) in 2019. These statistics demonstrate an increase of dependents of over seven times.

One major reason for the increase of these figures could be the introduction of study visa requirements for European Economic Area (EEA) students since Brexit.

Another contributing factor could be the growth in the international postgraduate student sector from countries like India and Nigeria, where students are far more likely to bring dependents than their peers from China – who previously dominated UK international recruitment. According to Home Office figures, roughly one dependent comes with every 100 Chinese students, whereas the ratio for India is 1:3 and for Nigeria it's 1:1.

What about the graduate route visa?

No changes are being made to the graduate route visa, which means that masters and PhD students will still be able to remain in the UK for two or three years after completing their studies on a post-study work visa. However, new dependents won’t be able to join them at this stage.

Will this affect the number of foreign PG students coming to the UK?

It’s difficult to say what effects these new visa restrictions will have on the number of international students choosing to study their postgraduate program at a UK university. It’s true that many foreign students chose to bring dependents with them whilst they were studying their course in the UK, but this does not necessarily mean they won’t choose to study their taught masters in the UK anyway. Plus, there will still be the opportunity for them to be joined by their dependents if they decide to apply for a skilled worker visa once they have finished their studies.

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