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Cleverly: ‘Unreasonable practice’ of foreign students taking family to UK to end

01 Jan 2024 4 minute read
Home Secretary James Cleverly. Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire

James Cleverly has said the “unreasonable practice” of overseas students bringing their family to the UK will end as restrictions on visa routes come into force on Monday.

The Home Secretary said the ban, which affects all but those enrolling on postgraduate research courses and ones with Government-funded scholarships, will cut migration by tens of thousands.

The measures were announced in May by his ousted predecessor Suella Braverman shortly before official figures showed net migration running at 672,000.

The move could hit universities which rely on foreign student fees and could also harm the UK’s reputation as an international destination, experts have warned.

It means that as of Monday, international students starting courses in Britain are no longer allowed to obtain visas for their dependants, unless they are on a postgraduate research programme or a Government-sponsored course.

Mr Cleverly said: “This Government is delivering on its commitment to the British public to cut migration. We have set out a tough plan to rapidly bring numbers down, control our borders and prevent people from manipulating our immigration system, which will come into force throughout this year.

“Today, a major part of that plan comes into effect, ending the unreasonable practice of overseas students bringing their family members to the UK. This will see migration falling rapidly by the tens of thousands and contribute to our overall strategy to prevent 300,000 people from coming to the UK.”


Immigration minister Tom Pursglove said: “Our world-leading universities rightly attract some of the brightest students from around the world to the UK.

“But we have seen a surge in the number of dependants being brought by students, which is contributing to unsustainable levels of migration.”

Revised Office for National Statistic (ONS) figures released last month showed net migration ran at a record figure of 745,000 in the year to December 2022. It stood at a provisional 672,000 in the year to June 2023.

Earlier in December, Mr Cleverly set out a raft of new restrictions that he said would cut numbers by 300,000 a year, including hiking the salary threshold for Britons bringing foreign spouses to the UK to £38,700.

The move was criticised for threatening to tear families apart, with many having their future thrown into doubt as the Government considered the details of the policy.

Ministers later rowed back by quietly announcing the threshold would first be raised to £29,000 and then increased in “incremental stages” until spring 2025, which in turn angered MPs on the Tory right in favour of tighter migration controls.

The Home Office said the new package is a “tough but fair” approach, insisting the changes to student visas strike the right balance between “attracting the brightest and best” to Britain but “removing the ability for institutions to undermine the UK’s reputation by selling immigration not education.”


Experts have previously expressed concern about the measure.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) think tank, said international students will go to competitor nations if they are discouraged from coming to the UK.

“As a country, we risk cutting off our nose to spite our face,” he warned.

“International students benefit the UK in all sorts of ways. For example, they are vital to maintaining our world-class university sector as their fees cross-subsidise the teaching of home students and also help to fund UK research.

“I don’t celebrate the new changes and I urge ministers to keep a close eye on competitor nations, who may now seek to recruit those people who would otherwise have come here and benefited the whole of our country.”

Labour has backed the restrictions but said they do not go far enough to tackle “deep failures” in skills and training across the UK labour market or boost the country’s sluggish economy.

“Labour supports these restrictions on dependants for overseas students on shorter courses. However, this is nothing more than a sticking plaster,” shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said.

“The Tories’ complete failure to tackle skills and labour market problems is undermining growth as well as increasing migration.”

In the year ending September 2023, 152,980 visas were issued to dependants of students.

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6 months ago

Interesting that the Conservatives pick up on this as an attack line. No doubt this will be a deterrance to many overseas students enrolling in British universties. Given that the Conservatives (helped along by their former Liberal capitulators) have extended the capitalist model of higher education introduced by the neoliberal government of Tony Blair, how do they propose the universities will make up for the loss of lucrative overseas student fees? Could we yet see education being returned to the status of a public good? Fat chance. Continue the commodification of society, plunder the people for profit and make scapegoats… Read more »

6 months ago

Is he still in favour of using date rape drugs on spouses? Does he still think it is a giggle?

John Davies
John Davies
6 months ago
Reply to  Jeff

Remember, this comment was made in the context of a party at No 10, where journalists were invited, but there was an unspoken agreement that anything said would not be reported. The Mirror reported that particularly gross remark because they felt so disgusted.

The image the Tories present to us in public is a carefully crafted construct. Cleverly’s remark is more the real Tory. This is what they are like when they are unbuttoned and relaxing. Gross, brutal, sexist and extremely unpleasant.

6 months ago
Reply to  John Davies

This is the bit that rankles as much as the comment. “off the record” comments to the lobby press is one way of disseminating stories and views (mainly political). Reporters are usually careful with this but the Home Sec cannot hide behind this when abuse is the topic. But this is also the bloke in charge of safety in the UK, that includes women and when majority of abuse cases are not solved or acted on, he should be forever reminded. But the lobby press will now walk away from it after a word on the qt that is it… Read more »

Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
6 months ago

New year, same old Tories. Though it should be expected in an election year. On a day when energy prices rise yet again all they think about is immigrant bashing. Who gives a toss? Where’s the help for struggling families? The quicker we kick this band of obnoxious bigots out this year the better.

6 months ago

Overseas students effectively allow us to export our education sector. Baffling why they’d want to discourage this, especially when the UK is already far less attractive than it once was.

Friar Bevan
Friar Bevan
6 months ago

You can hate the tories but still realise that our Universities are playing a numbers game, hustling for business. HE is a mess and rotten to the core, especially the ‘creative industries’ sector

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