Politics

New restrictions on overseas students bringing family to UK come into force

The government’s new rules preventing most international students from bringing family to the UK are now in effect – but Rishi Sunak still faces a huge fight with his own party over reducing both legal and illegal migration.

Any international students starting courses from this month will not be able to bring dependants to the UK, unless they are on postgraduate research courses or courses with government-funded scholarships.

The changes were first announced last May as part of the government’s bid “to prevent misuse of the visa system”.

Ministers say it will see around 140,000 fewer people come to the UK each year.

In the year ending December 2022, 486,000 student visas were issued to applicants – up from 269,000 in 2019.

Last year, the number of student visas issued to dependants stood at 136,000 – an eight-fold increase from 2019, when 16,000 were provided.

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Foreign students abuse visa system

Welcoming the rule changes, Home Secretary James Cleverly said the government has “set out a tough plan to rapidly bring numbers down, control our borders and prevent people from manipulating our immigration system”.

“Today, a major part of that plan comes into effect, ending the unreasonable practice of overseas students bringing their family members to the UK,” he added.

“This will see migration falling rapidly by the tens of thousands and contribute to our overall strategy to prevent 300,000 people from coming to the UK.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said Labour supports the restrictions on dependants for overseas students on shorter courses but added “this is nothing more than a sticking plaster”.

“The Tories complete failure to tackle skills and labour market problems is undermining growth as well as increasing migration,” she added.

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Visa laws ‘will hit universities’

In early December, the government announced a “more robust” package of further measures to bring down legal migration – but quietly rowed back on a key element just days before Christmas.

The threshold for a family visa – which applies to Britons who wish to bring family members to the UK – was due to rise from £18,600 to £38,700 next spring.

But it emerged that the government was watering down the pledge and will now implement the change in stages, with the higher threshold to now come into place in “early 2025” – leaving Mr Sunak’s own backbenchers accusing him of “weakness”.

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The prime minister also has a huge fight with his own party approaching over his bid to get the embattled Rwanda scheme off the ground.

His “emergency legislation” to rescue the scheme after it was ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court in November passed its second reading in the Commons in early December after a fight.

The Rwanda scheme is part of Mr Sunak’s pledge to stop small boats crossing the Channel, and the number of migrants crossing has fallen year-on-year for the first time since current records began.

The provisional annual total for the year, 29,437, is 36% lower than the record 45,774 crossings for the whole of 2022. However, it is higher than the total figure for 2021 (28,526).

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