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UK Revamps Migration Policy, Affects International Students

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As the United Kingdom grapples with complex immigration issues, its recent policy changes are significantly impacting international students, including Nigerians. The government’s move to restrict students’ rights to bring partners and children to the UK, effective from January 1, 2024, has raised concerns among experts about potential labour gaps. This restriction applies unless the student is enrolled in a postgraduate research course.

The earlier implemented Points Based System (PBS) indicated that over 300,000 individuals eligible for UK entry last year might face challenges in the future. The new rules aim to prevent visa system abuses by restricting students from switching to work visas.

In the year ending June 2023, the UK saw a significant influx of non-EU nationals, with approximately 968,000 arriving, alongside 129,000 EU nationals and 84,000 British returnees. The Home Office, via social media, announced that only postgraduate research or government-sponsored scholarship students would be exempt from these new measures.

This move targets the surge in dependents brought by overseas students, which The Economic Times reported as a 930% increase since 2019. The British Home Secretary reiterated the government’s commitment to reducing legal migration levels, following a net migration rise to 672,000 in the year to the end of June 2023.

The government’s stance is to curb exploitation and manipulation of the visa system. They emphasize working across various departments to strengthen measures against such abuses. The statistics revealed a significant number of Indian, Chinese, Nigerian, American, and Pakistani students migrating to the UK, with Nigeria experiencing the most considerable decline in student enrolments.

According to Enroly data, the number of Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) and visas issued to Nigerian students dropped by 21.42% compared to the previous year. This decline is attributed to the changing migration landscape, with indications of a similar trend for Indian students.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that most UK arrivals over the last year were non-EU nationals, highlighting the diversity of the migration pool. The UK Government acknowledged a substantial increase in dependants, particularly among Indian and Nigerian nationals. In 2023, Nigerian nationals saw a significant rise in dependent visas, outnumbering the visas issued to main applicants.

The surge in dependent visas among Nigerians reflects a growing trend of family migration, with the number of visas issued to Nigerian students increasing eightfold from 2021 to 2022, and dependent visas rising 38 times. This trend is mirrored in the broader context of international student migration to the UK, where the inflow of students and their families has become a focal point of the government’s migration policy.

The UK’s decision to curtail the rights of students to bring their families has stirred debate and concern. The policy, targeting abuse of the visa system, restricts students from switching from student to work visas until their studies are completed. This move is seen as part of the UK’s broader strategy to manage its immigration system post-Brexit, focusing on skilled labour and reducing overall immigration numbers.

The policy shift has implications for the UK’s educational sector, a significant contributor to its economy. International students’ fees play a crucial role in funding universities and subsidising domestic students. The spending of these students on housing, food, and services bolsters local economies, and their potential contributions as working professionals are significant. However, the new restrictions pose challenges for universities dependent on international student enrolments and fees.

Editorials, like that of The Guardian Nigeria, highlight the need for Nigerian authorities to address the factors driving the mass exodus of their citizens. The editorial urges a focus on creating liveable conditions and opportunities within Nigeria to stem the flow of migration. It also points out the potential diplomatic strain between the UK and Nigeria due to these restrictions, as education is a key element of bilateral relations.

Experts like Dr. Kester Onor of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) and Prof. Bola Akinterinwa of Achievers University contextualise the UK’s migration dilemma within the broader challenges of managing immigration post-Brexit. The UK’s historical struggle with immigration policy, especially since joining the European Economic Community and later the European Union, is highlighted as a contributing factor to its current stance.

Professor Akinterinwa explains that the UK’s hesitation to welcome more immigrants stems from existing challenges in integrating those already in the country. He notes that this issue is not unique to the UK but is prevalent in other European countries like France, especially concerning Arab-Muslim immigrants.

The policy distinction between home and foreign students, where international students pay significantly higher fees than domestic students, exemplifies the financial impact on UK universities. This disparity indicates that international students substantially support the creation of opportunities for domestic students and contribute to the universities’ financial stability.

However, with the implementation of the dependent visa ban policy, concerns are rising about how UK universities will cope with declining admissions and revenues from foreign students. Enroly data suggests substantial decreases in enrolments from Nigeria and India, which will likely impact the financial health of these institutions.

Rob Carthy from Northumbria University notes the significant reduction in Nigerian student numbers and the need for universities to adapt to these changes. The reliance of UK universities on a small number of global education agencies is also highlighted, with the largest agents diversifying their offerings, increasing competition for UK institutions.

Paul Richmond, Managing Partner at Richmond Chambers UK, discusses the challenges businesses face due to the increase in the minimum salary threshold for Skilled Worker visas. This change will particularly affect sectors like hospitality, where many roles may not meet the new threshold.

The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford points out the divided public opinion on migration in the UK. While attitudes vary, the Observatory notes that concerns about immigration have risen following the Brexit Referendum, particularly with the recent record high in net migration.

In conclusion, the UK’s tightened migration rules, particularly affecting international students and their families, present significant challenges and implications. These changes reflect the UK’s ongoing effort to manage its immigration system in a post-Brexit landscape, balancing economic needs with public sentiment and international relations.

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