How are dependants of Student visa holders affected by recent changes to the UK Immigration Rules?

By Amer Zaman

on July 31, 2023

Read Time: 8 Minutes

On a backdrop of recent record highs in net migration to the UK, and a Government seemingly keen to communicate its “toughness” on immigration issues as a general election draws ever-nearer, it can’t be too surprising that moves have been made to restrict the scope for international students to bring their dependants to the UK.

Indeed, it is fair to say that at least one high-profile member of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Government had been training their sights on the families of international students for quite a while, so the “ban” on dependants of Student visa holders was well-previewed.

The Home Secretary finally getting her way?

We are, of course, referring to Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who – mere days after assuming the role in September 2022 – had complained in an interview with The Sun on Sunday about dependants supposedly “piggybacking” on Student visas, who she said were “not contributing to growing our economy”.

That was before Mr Sunak had even taken up his own position at 10 Downing Street – and finally, the Home Secretary seems to have gotten the changes she wanted. On 23rd May, the Home Office announced new restrictions on Student visa routes that it said would “cut net migration while protecting the economic benefits students bring to the UK.”

That is somewhat milder language than what has been used to report the story in certain quarters. Some outlets stated in their headlines that the Government’s new restrictions on Student visa dependants from January 2024 amounted to such dependent migrants being “barred” or “banned”.

To use such blunt terms might be to oversimplify the situation. Although the changes will indeed amount to a “ban” on the dependants of great numbers of Student visa holders, some exemptions will still apply.

Furthermore, the Government intriguingly stated in its news release announcing the development that it would “work with the higher education sector to explore alternative options to ensure the brightest and best students can continue to bring dependents when they study at the UK’s world-leading universities.”

Nonetheless, at a time when many prospective students for courses in the UK will be looking to apply for visas for programmes beginning in September 2023, our immigration experts here at Cranbrook Legal can understand that there will be worry and confusion about the announcement among some of our readers. So, what exactly are the changes that the UK Government has brought in as far as the dependants of Student visa holders are concerned, and what will be the real-world impacts?

What are the new rules for dependants of Student visa holders in the UK?

The “headline” change announced on 23rd May is that, with effect from January 2024, international students will no longer be permitted to bring dependants to the UK.

Specifically, the Government is making the following changes in relation to the UK Student visa route, as it continues to look for ways to drive down the country’s persistently high net migration levels:

  • International students will no longer have the right to bring dependants, unless they are on postgraduate courses currently designated as research programmes; and
  • International students will no longer be able to switch from the Student route to work routes prior to the completion of their studies.

As well as knowing the above changes, however, it is equally important to understand what has not changed about how the Government treats the dependants of international students in the UK.

Dependants on the Student visa route who are already in the UK, for example, will continue to have the right to extend their stay. And as the change does not take effect until January 2024, if you are an international student planning to start a course in the UK prior to that date (for example, in September 2023), you will still have the right to bring your dependants to the UK, including if you will be on a taught postgraduate course. Exemptions that already exist for the dependants of Government-sponsored students, and for dependant children who are born in the UK, are also being left unchanged.

What else do Student visa applicants or holders with dependants need to know about the changes?

As aforementioned, one of the most crucial things for would-be international students in the UK to know about the new rules, is that they only apply to international students who will be starting their UK course in, or after, January 2024. Depending on your circumstances and intentions, this might have certain implications for how you approach the Student visa application process.

If you will be beginning your course in the UK on a Student visa in the autumn of 2023, and you intend to bring your dependants with you to the UK before January 2024, the situation is relatively straightforward; the old rules will apply, so there will not be any new restrictions on your dependants’ ability to accompany you to the UK.

On the other hand, you might have been intending to apply for your Student visa now, with the idea of applying for your dependants’ visas at a later date. If this describes your situation, we recommend that you apply for your dependants’ visas prior to January 2024, so that there is no question of any clash with the new rules.

Nonetheless, the Government has made it clear that the changes to the Student visa with regard to dependants will only apply to students whose courses start at any point from 1st January 2024. So, this means that if, for example, a given international student’s course in the UK will begin in the autumn of 2023, and they intend their dependants to accompany them, they will be able to extend their dependants’ stay in the UK following completion of their studies, under the Graduate visa route. One group of students who could hit upon trouble with regard to the new Immigration Rules for Student visas, would be those who have an offer for a course beginning in September 2023, but who are intending to defer until January 2024. If this is the situation you are in, it is important to understand that the official start date of your course will be January 2024, and not September 2023, so you will be subject to the new restrictions on dependants, rather than the old rules.

Can Student dependants change their visa category in the UK?

If you are a Student visa holder and you have dependants with you in the UK on this visa route, they won’t be able to apply to switch to another category of visa while they are still in the UK.

So, if a dependant of yours does wish to switch from the status of a Student dependant to another status – for example, to a Student visa as a student in their own right – they may need to return to their country of origin and apply for a new UK visa from there.

It is important to be well-informed on the full rules that apply to any dependants of yours if you are currently on a Student visa, as well as if you are planning to extend your visa or switch to another visa.

For example, you might have the right to extend your visa in order to stay for longer in the UK and continue on your existing course, or to study on a new course. But if you are interested in taking this step, you should bear in mind that your partner or children will need to apply separately in order to extend their visa. They could apply at the same time as you make your own Student visa extension application, or they can apply at any time prior to the expiry of their current visa.

Don’t forget, too, that after the successful completion of your course, you may have the option of switching to the Graduate visa, which would give you the right to continue living in the UK for at least two years longer.

Indeed, if your partner or children accompanied you to the UK as ‘dependants’ on your current Student visa, they will be able to apply to continue living in the UK as your ‘dependants’ if you switch to the Graduate visa.

As aforementioned, another change that the Government is making as far as the Student visa category is concerned, is restricting international students’ ability to switch in-country to another route before they have completed their courses. So, this is something else that might inform your decision-making as the expiry date of your Student visa approaches.

We can help ensure you comply with the latest rules as a Student visa holder

If you are reading this as someone who has been offered a place on a course by an educational institution in the UK that is licensed to act as your sponsor, congratulations! As you plan your new life as a student in the UK, our experts in immigration law at Cranbrook Legal can project manage your application for a Student visa, to help ensure a positive outcome at the first attempt.

There are various eligibility requirements that you will need to satisfy as an applicant for the Student visa, and in the current period of rapid change for the UK’s immigration system, you might easily overlook crucial rules. So, you are likely to appreciate the advice and help that our award-winning specialists in central London can provide, which could also take much of the stress out of the process. Do you have any further questions about the latest announced changes affecting the UK Student visa category, or about any other aspect of the process of securing a visa for the UK? If so, please do not hesitate to call our team now on 0208 215 0053; you are also welcome to fill in and submit our online contact form in order to request a free consultation.

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