Rishi Sunak is mulling a crackdown on foreign students arriving in the UK. But will he go through with it?

He’s certainly under pressure to do something, after ONS data sent shockwaves around the nation yesterday as it emerged net migration rose by more than half a million in the year to June 2022. With more than half coming from bespoke humanitarian schemes for Ukraine (89,000), Afghanistan (21,000) and Hong Kong (76,000), another 227,000 arrived on student visas, double the previous year. 

Though largely explained by pandemic-induced education delays, the increased volume of students has fuelled concern in government. Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson said: “We are considering all options to make sure the immigration system is delivering and that does include the issue of students’ dependents, and low-quality degrees”. 

Indeed, the Prime Minister may be planning a crackdown on the number of foreign students coming to the UK, potentially sparking a huge row in Cabinet. Given international students pay higher fees than domestic students, the Department for Education is expected to say that stemming the flow from abroad could threaten university finances. The Treasury also believes cutting migration could harm growth and fuel higher taxes and lower spending. 

It’s not only students but their dependents who arrived in the last year – 116,000 family members represented a seven-fold increase on 2019, when 16,047 dependents were granted visas (representing 6 per cent of overseas students bringing in partners or children). The 50,980 students from Nigeria bought 51,468 dependents, while 305 students from Libya brought 467 relatives. 

The allocation of work visas revealed fascinating trends. An 89 per cent increase can largely be accounted for by EU nationals now needing to apply. Interestingly, 130,000 work visas were granted to people from India, with 98 per cent of Indian nationals who applied receiving one.

Separate figures indicate a record 143,000 people await an outcome for their asylum claim, with around 41,000 waiting between one and three years. With crisis after crisis, the Home Office yet again appears in a terminal state of chaos. Curbing the number of foreign students may feel to Sunak like low-hanging (but expensive) fruit. 

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