Rishi Sunak yesterday heralded a student visa crackdown as the ‘biggest single tightening’ of migration ever seen in Britain.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman vowed that spiraling net migration would be slashed to pre-pandemic levels in the next few years.
Ministers yesterday announced singeing cuts to student visas in a bid to head off criticism surrounding record migration levels. Most students will be barred from bringing their families to Britain and will no longer be able to switch to work visas unless they have completed their courses.
Data to be published by the Office for National Statistics tomorrow is expected to show a surge in net migration – the difference between immigrants arriving and those emigrating – to between 700,000 and one million last year.
Net migration in the year to March 2020 – the beginning of the Covid emergency – was 313,000.
Rishi Sunak yesterday heralded a student visa crackdown as the ‘biggest single tightening’ of migration ever seen in Britain
Ministers yesterday announced singeing cuts to student visas in a bid to head off criticism surrounding record migration levels
It means the number may have to plummet by between 400,000 and 700,000 a year if ministers are to meet the pre-pandemic levels indicated by Downing Street.
But the PM’s spokesman told reporters it was ‘the biggest single tightening a Government has ever done’.
‘Taken together with the easing of temporary factors (such as large numbers arriving from Ukraine and Hong Kong) we would expect net migration to fall to pre-pandemic levels in the medium term. As well as the package, there are one-off impacts such as help for people from Ukraine and British nationals in Hong Kong.’
The Home Secretary is believed to have pushed for the visa restrictions, which were resisted by Education Secretary Gillian Keegan and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt.
Last year saw foreign students bring 136,000 dependants to Britain, up from just 16,000 in 2019.
Mr Sunak told the Cabinet yesterday that he was persuaded to act after the Home Office highlighted the 750 per cent increase.
Restrictions to come into force in January mean only students who enter the UK under ‘postgraduate research routes’ – such as PhDs and some Master’s degrees – will be allowed to bring their dependants.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman said: ‘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.
‘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.’ The Home Office said the moves would prevent the use of student visas as a ‘backdoor route to work in the UK’. It will also review the amount of money students must demonstrate they have to fund their stays in the UK, and ‘clamp down on unscrupulous international student agents who may be supporting inappropriate applications’.
The package stops short of curbing the right of postgraduate students to work for two years in the UK after finishing their courses.
The PM’s spokesman said Mr Sunak believed that ‘it is of benefit to the UK that our student sector is extremely competitive.’
But yesterday’s changes are unlikely to lead to a large enough fall in net migration to meet the Government’s aims. In the year to December, the Home Office issued 486,000 student visas to main applicants, up from 269,000 in 2019.
Meanwhile it was last night announced that ministers have signed a deal to return 200 Albanian criminals to their home country.
The agreement will see offenders serving four years or more removed. In exchange, the British taxpayer will contribute money towards modernising the east European country’s jails.
Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Alex Chalk said: ‘The public expects that foreign criminals should serve their sentences overseas – not in our prisons at the expense of the taxpayer.’