Record numbers of foreign students are bringing relatives into the UK, as ministers consider how to bring down overall immigration.
An analysis of Home Office data shows the numbers of dependants of foreign students granted visas has increased five-fold in just three years, from 13,664 in 2019 to 81,089 in the year ending June 2022.
It comes as universities have moved to shore up their income by boosting the numbers of foreign students, who now are increasingly bringing in relatives as well. Whereas the ratio of dependants to students granted visas was 26 to one in 2019, it was five to one in the year to June.
It is understood that Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, is studying the data as part of her review of immigration which will aim to bring down the headline figure while also ensuring it boosts growth.
Those with low skills could fall foul of moves to ensure that migrants seeking visas demonstrate they would have a meaningful impact on economic growth by increasing GDP per capita.
Nigerians and Indians bringing most dependants
Net migration is running at 230,000 people a year and last month Home Office figures revealed that the number of visas for foreign nationals to live, study and work in the UK had exceeded a million for the first time.
Students account for a large proportion of overall immigration, with numbers up by 60 per cent in a year, from 256,000 to nearly 411,000 in the year to June 2022. The number of dependants increased by 170 per cent from 29,700 to 81,100.
Nigeria and India were the countries with the highest number of students bringing dependants. The 34,000 Nigerian students accounted for 31,898 dependants while the 93,100 Indian students accounted for 24,916.
Libya had 455 dependants and 272 main applicants, meaning there were more dependants than students.
‘An area in desperate need of tightening’
Alp Mehmet, chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: “It has been clear for years that a significant number of those coming to study and their dependants use it as a route into work and settlement.
“It is yet another mode of uncontrolled and uncapped migration, often, feeding the demand for low-skilled and low-paid workers. The number of student dependants has spiralled to over 80,000 in one year. It is an area in desperate need of tightening.”
The immigration review is to consider overhauling the visa system to address labour shortages, attract talent and improve economic growth.
It could see changes to the shortage occupations list to allow some key sectors to recruit more overseas staff and a loosening of the requirement to speak English in some areas to enable more foreign workers into the country. The current 30-40,000 cap on seasonal workers is likely be lifted in the “short term.”
Downing Street says the Government is not advocating an increase in immigration but changes to the mix. “That will involve increasing numbers in some areas and decreasing in others. As the Prime Minister has made clear, we also want to see people who are economically inactive get back into work,” they said.
Across work visas, the number and ratio of dependants has also increased, nearly doubling in a year from 55,747 to 109,649. The ratio for the 221,584 visas granted for skilled workers in relation to dependants was 2.5.