UK restricting student visa rules to tighten immigration

By Minh Nga   May 25, 2024 | 06:51 am PT
UK restricting student visa rules to tighten immigration
Students and visitors are seen walking around the main campus buildings of University College London (UCL), part of the University of London, Britain in 2017. Photo by Reuters
The U.K.'s Graduate Route program will continue allowing international students post-study work rights, but higher financial requirements and stricter English language reviews will restrict the number of students who migrate.

According to a joint statement released Thursday by the Home Office and Department of Education, the U.K.’s current Graduate Route visa will remain in place to let international students stay to work in the country for two years after graduating.

However, the Home Secretary and Education Secretary indicated that they were planning to tighten regulations on student visas and recruitment agents "to ensure the U.K.’s world-leading higher education sector is used for education, not as a gateway to immigration, with options to go further remaining under consideration."

Among the proposed measures are an increase in financial maintenance requirements "so international students will have to prove their financial self-sufficiency," and a review of English language assessments "with the objective of standardising independent assessments, ensuring all international students are equipped with the skills to understand their course materials – or they shouldn’t expect a place at a U.K. university."

The two government agencies, however, did not state specifically how much they would like to raise the financial maintenance requirements.

Currently, international students must prove they have £1,334 (US$1,700) per month (for up to nine months) for courses in London and £1,023 per month (for up to 9 months) for courses outside London.

Other proposed measures include stricter compliance for institutions recruiting international students, as well as enhanced quality and qualification control over the agents these recruiters use. Additionally, restrictions could be imposed on remote learning to prioritize face-to-face interactions.

No further details on the proposed measures have yet been provided.

Home Secretary, James Cleverly, said in the joint statement that recent measures introduced since last year to reduce migration to the U.K., including the removal of most student dependents’ right to accompany students to the country, have already driven down student visa applications by almost a quarter in the first four months of 2024.

"We have taken decisive and necessary action to deliver the largest cut in legal migration in our country’s history. Applications are already falling sharply, down by almost a quarter on key routes in the first four months of this year compared to last, with the full impact of our package still to be seen."

Cleverly went on to insist that the stringent measures must be continued: "We must go further to make sure our immigration routes aren't abused. That's why we are cracking down on rogue international agents and, building on work across government, to ensure international students are coming here to study, not work."

Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, said: "It is right that we strike the balance between controlling immigration and making sure the U.K. remains the 'go to' place for students around the world, supporting our brilliant universities and enabling the best and brightest to study here."

According to statistics from the U.K. government, study visa applications dropped to 34,000 in the first quarter, a decrease from 46,900 applications in 2022.

According to the Home Office, after new government rules banning Masters-taught students from bringing dependents came into force on Jan. 1, total dependent study visa applications have fallen from 23,800 in Q1 of 2022, to 6,700 in the first three months of this year.

Previously, British officials attributed the record high of 745,000 immigrants in 2022 partly to international students. Then, nearly 136,000 issued visas were for dependents of international students, 8.5 times more than three years before that.

In May last year, the U.K. decided to limit this group by preventing international students from switching from a student visa to a work visa before graduation.

At the end of March this year, the country began reviewing its Graduate Route work visa program.

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