V-cs ‘disappointed’ by Braverman’s overseas students comments

New home secretary concerned about dependants ‘piggybacking’ on family members’ student visas

October 3, 2022
UK border
Source: iStock

University leaders said they were “disappointed” by comments from the new home secretary raising concern about the “very high” number of international students and their dependants in the UK.

Suella Braverman, who was appointed to the role in September by new prime minister Liz Truss, said family members were “piggybacking” on student visas, and were “not contributing to growing our economy”.

In response, Universities UK International said the comments were “disappointing and risk undermining the government’s own target to grow education exports to £35 billion by 2030”.

“Far from being a problem, an increased number of international students in the UK should be seen as a resounding success for the government and is something to be celebrated,” said Jamie Arrowsmith, UUKi’s acting director.

He said a 2019 government target to reach 600,000 international students per year was met last year, with UUKi’s research indicating that they make a net positive annual contribution of almost £26 billion to the UK economy.

Mr Arrowsmith said that while those studying undergraduate courses are not able to bring in dependants, most international students study at postgraduate level, tend to be older and are therefore more likely to have dependants.

However, the Home Office has acknowledged that the vast majority of visas are for students and not their spouses or family members, he added.

Recent UK immigration figures showed a tripling in visas issued to students’ dependants, but that still represents just 10 per cent of all study visas.

“We also know that there are many postgraduate-level courses that are only sustainable due to their popularity with international students, helping to increase choice for UK students,” Mr Arrowsmith said.

Speaking to The Sun on Sunday, Ms Braverman said there were “too many low-skilled workers coming into this country”.

“We’ve also got a very high number of students coming into this country and we’ve got a really high number of dependants,” she said.

“So students are coming on their student visa, but they’re bringing in family members who can piggyback on to their student visa. 

“Those people are coming here, they’re not necessarily working or they’re working in low-skilled jobs, and they’re not contributing to growing our economy.”

Ms Braverman added: “We want people with high skills, we want people with tech qualifications…What we don’t want is a very steady stream of cheap foreign labour.”

UUKi said the Government should instead focus on building the UK’s leading position internationally in HE; by fostering sustainable growth, diversifying the pool of international students and maintaining its position as the second most popular destination behind the US.

“To do so, we should continue to welcome international students to the UK and value the contribution that they – and their families – make to our country,” Mr Arrowsmith said.

He added that all students bringing in dependants must comply with all immigration rules, including paying the NHS surcharge upfront and demonstrating that they have the necessary funds to support themselves and their families.

patrick.jack@timeshighereducation.com

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