Number of UK study visas granted halves following dependants ban

Eighty per cent drop in number of family members given permission to come to UK

May 23, 2024
An empty airport waiting area
Source: iStock/Denys Yelmanov

The number of study visas granted has halved following a government crackdown on family members coming into the UK, early figures show.

Just 7,908 sponsored study visas were issued to dependants in the first quarter of the year – 80 per cent less than between January and March 2023, and the largest fall since at least 2010.

Including 37,451 main applicants – down by 22 per cent – the total number of sponsored study visas granted for the quarter decreased by 49 per cent over this period, from 88,222 to 45,359.

The government’s ban on students bringing dependants unless they are on postgraduate research courses – announced one year ago in a bid to stem immigration – came into effect in January.

review by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recommended keeping the UK’s post-study work route and making changes only once the full impact of the dependants ban was known. Concerns that the government would still scrap it appear to have been put to rest.

Home Office statisticians said recent policy changes were one of a number of factors that might have affected visa application volumes. The total number of study visas issued for the 12 months to March 2024 were down by 11 per cent on the year before, but remained at historically high levels.

The number of main applicant visas granted fell by 6 per cent, and many of the UK’s largest recruitment markets saw much bigger falls across the whole year.

India – the UK’s largest contributor of international students – saw 16 per cent fewer main applicants granted visas, and 31 per cent fewer dependants. The decrease appears to have also been driven by a significant fall in the number coming to study at master’s level.

Campus resource: How can UK universities support applicants affected by student visa changes?

The number of Nigerian main applicants fell by a record 39 per cent and the number of Nigerian dependants by 40 per cent.

Together, these two countries now make up 62 per cent of all dependant visas issued in the last 12 months – down from 73 per cent in the year to March 2023.

China – which typically sends far fewer dependants – was largely unaffected by the ban, with the number of main applicants rising by 8 per cent year on year.

Separate figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that net migration to the UK dropped by 10 per cent in 2023, after hitting a new record the year before. The revised data shows that net migration of non-European Union international migrants who initially arrived in the UK on study-related visas fell from 328,000 in 2022 to 247,000 in 2023.

The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said student emigration had not increased as much as expected because more students had been staying on to work.

Ben Brindle, a researcher at the Migration Observatory, said: “One of the big uncertainties for the coming year is what will happen to the number of international students.

“Early indications are that the UK has become less attractive to international students, including due to the ban on their family members.

“But we won’t have the full picture until after the summer, which is when most international students apply for their visas.”

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