UK government departments have been asked to set out their position on student visa reforms. The Home Office is pressing for restrictions, with opposition to post-study work limitations said to be coming from an array of departments including the Treasury.
The Times reports that Indian origin Suella Braverman, the home secretary, has proposed reducing the time that overseas students can stay in the UK after completing their courses under the graduate visa route from two years to six months, a plan “strongly opposed” by the Department for Education. Previous calls from Braverman for a student visa “crackdown”, aired in the press from autumn to Christmas last year, were regarded as “noise” — with no government machinery turning to implement such plans.
However, Times Higher Education understands that on January 20, government departments were formally asked to outline their positions on visa policy options. It is thought that not just the Department for Education (DfE), but a range of departments including the Treasury, the Department for International Trade and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy — fearing damage to the UK’s economic position — are opposed to the Home Office plan on reducing the time allowed under the graduate visa route.
Opposition is said to be less strong to reform of the rules on overseas students’ rights to bring dependants into the UK — and sector sources are hopeful that change in this area will be the option 10 Downing Street chooses, rather than targeting the graduate visa route. No.10 is expected to make a decision soon.
The Times reports that Indian origin prime minister Rishi Sunak asked the Home Office and the DfE to submit proposals for reducing the number of international students coming to the UK. It said there are concerns that the 2019 target to recruit 600,000 overseas students annually by 2030, met last year, has been “too successful”. Sunak and Braverman are alarmed by rising net migration figures, which include students. Figures published in November showed net migration had risen to 504,000 last year.
On dependants, Braverman reportedly wants to change the rules so only overseas students studying in postgraduate programmes of at least two years can bring family with them. The proposal to reduce the number of additional family members entering the country comes after figures showed a tripling in visas issued to students’ dependants, with 70 percent of all dependants coming from Nigeria and India.
Universities would be quite content to see another of the changes reportedly being sought by Braverman — barring students from switching to a work visa in the UK until they have finished their course — which they had long warned was a problem with the scheme.