The UK government on Tuesday announced a package of measures aimed at international students, including a ban on some family members, as ministers come under growing pressure to cut immigration.
After a drop during the pandemic, net migration has been steadily on the rise and is reportedly expected to hit a record high this year.
Official figures published last November estimated net migration to June 2022 at just over 500,000.
Under the new proposals, only students on postgraduate courses designated as research programmes will be able to bring dependants to the UK while they study.
Overseas students will be prevented from switching “out of the student route into work routes” before their studies have been completed.
There will also be “improved and more enforcement activity” and a clamp down on “unscrupulous agents” using education as a cover for immigration, according to a government statement.
Some 136,000 visas were issued to the dependants of international students last year up eight-fold from the 16,000 in 2019, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said in a written statement to parliament
The minister, a Brexit hardliner whose rhetoric on immigration has caused controversy said overseas students played an important part in supporting the UK economy.
But she added that it should not come at the cost of the government’s “commitment to the public to lower overall migration and ensure that migration to the UK is highly skilled and therefore provides the most benefit”.
Braverman said the proposals struck the “right balance” and would likely see net migration “fall to pre-pandemic levels in the medium term”.
Uncontrolled immigration from the European Union was one of the main battlegrounds of the Brexit referendum in 2016 which saw the UK leave the bloc.
Since 2018, the country has seen thousands of people successfully cross the English Channel in small boats to claim asylum.
More than 45,000 arrived last year, heaping political pressure on the government which promised to “take back control” of Britain’s borders.
One of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative predecessors, Boris Johnson, agreed a deal with Rwanda last year to relocate failed asylum seekers to the central African country.
But the scheme has been mired in legal battles and is yet to get underway.
The end of freedom of movement for workers within the EU due to Brexit and tighter immigration rules have also proved controversial for business.
Many sectors that previously relied heavily on EU workers, particularly agriculture and health and social care, have experienced deep skills shortages