London, May 23 (IANS) In a move that could hit Indians, the UK government on Tuesday announced that international students will no longer be able to bring family members with them except under specific circumstances.
The new changes to the student visa route will not apply to international students on post-graduate research routes such as PhDs and will come into effect starting January next year, according to the Home Office.
The restrictions will also ban people from using a student visa as a backdoor route to work in the UK, thus cutting net migration while protecting the economic benefits students bring to the UK.
"We have seen an unprecedented rise in the number of student dependents being brought into the country with visas. It is time for us to tighten up this route to ensure we can cut migration numbers and meet the government's pledge to the British people to cut net migration," Home Secretary Suella Braverman said.
"This is the fair thing to do to allow us to better protect our public services, while supporting the economy by allowing the students who contribute the most to keep coming here," she added.
The move comes after an Office for National Statistics data, due to be out later this week, is expected to show that net migration was over 500,000 from June 2021 to June 2022.
Last year almost half a million student visas were issued while the number of dependents of overseas students has increased by 750 per cent since 2019, to 136,000 people.
According to Home Office estimates, there has been an eightfold increase in the number of visas granted to dependents of international students, rising from 16,000 to 136,000 in 2019.
Further, to prevent misuse of the visa system, overseas students will be stopped from switching from the student visa route into work routes until their studies have been completed.
The government will also clamp down on unscrupulous international student agents who may be supporting inappropriate applications.
International students, including Indians, contribute nearly 10 times more to the UK economy than they take out, according to a report by UK higher education institutions.
As per the 2020-21 data, Indians represent the second largest cohort of international students coming to study at UK universities -- with 87,045 first-year enrolments behind China's 99,965 enrolments and ahead of Nigeria's 32,945.
"Attracting the top students from around the world isn't just good for our universities -- it's essential for our economy and building vital global relationships," Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said. However, she added that the number of family members being brought to the UK by students has risen significantly.
The Home Office added that the changes to the student visa route do not detract from the success of the government's International Education Strategy, including meeting the target to host 600,000 international higher education students studying in the UK each year by 2030.