The UK government has announced a series of measures to curb immigration by limiting the rights of international students and their dependents to come and stay in the country.

The move comes as official statistics are expected to confirm that net migration rose to more than 700,000 in the year to December 2022, far exceeding the Conservative Manifesto pledge to bring it down.

According to the new rules, which will take effect from January 2024, international students who come to study in the UK will no longer be able to bring family members with them except under specific circumstances, such as being in postgraduate research programs.

The government will also eliminate the option for international students to switch out of the UK student visa route and into work routes before their studies have been completed, in order to prevent misuse of the visa system.

In addition, the government will review the maintenance requirement for students and dependents, and crack down on unscrupulous education agents who make use of inappropriate applications to sell immigration, not education.

Balancing Economic and Public Interests

The Home Office said the changes were necessary to balance the economic benefits of attracting top students with the public commitment to lower overall migration.

“This package strikes the right balance between acting decisively on tackling net migration and protecting the economic benefits that students can bring to the UK,” said Home Secretary Suella Braverman. Now is the time to implement these adjustments in order to have an influence on net migration as soon as feasible. We anticipate that this package will have a significant influence on net migration. We expect net migration to decline to pre-pandemic levels in the medium run, given the easing of transitory causes.”

Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, stated: “Attracting outstanding students is not only beneficial for our institutions; it’s necessary for our economy and for establishing critical links throughout the world. But there are now much more students bringing their families to the UK. It is admirable that we are making efforts to lower this figure while continuing to support our international education policy, which continues to strengthen the UK’s educational system and significantly boost the national economy.”

Universities and Opposition Parties Warn of Negative Consequences

However, the announcement has been met with criticism from some universities and opposition parties, who warned that it could deter talented students who want to study in the UK from choosing the country as their study destination and harm the diversity and quality of the education sector.

The director of Universities UK International, Jamie Arrowsmith, stated, “We therefore urge the government to work with the sector to limit and monitor the impact on particular groups of students – and on universities, which are already under severe financial pressures.”

Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group of universities, said: “International students are fiercely competed for globally and a negative impact on universities’ plans to diversify their international student intakes is likely to be had by some of the announcements made today.”

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary for Labour, stated, “These measures do not address the serious problem in the Conservatives’ immigration system, which is their failure to address skills shortages and the 95% increase in work visas as employers increasingly turn to overseas recruitment in the absence of proper training and support for people to re-enter the workforce in the UK.”

Cabinet Split and Personal Pressure on Home Secretary

The government’s immigration policy has also been a source of tension within the cabinet, with some ministers reportedly pushing for more visas for students and workers in certain sectors to boost economic growth and fill labour shortages.

The home secretary is also under pressure over allegations that she requested civil servants to set up a private awareness course for her after she was found speeding last year – a move that critics say could violate the ministerial code.

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