Foreign students and their dependents could face curbs as net migration hits half a million

Other options could include a clamp down on students exploiting the two-year graduate visas to remain in the UK doing low-skilled work and increasing the salary threshold for skilled workers, which has not been uprated in line with inflation.

Mrs Braverman said the Government remained committed to reducing migration “over time,” acknowledging the current level “has put pressure on accommodation and housing supply, health, education and other public services”.

“We must ensure we have a sustainable, balanced and controlled approach, which is why we continue to keep our immigration policies under review,” she said.

“My priority remains tackling the rise in dangerous and illegal crossings and stopping the abuse of our system. It is vital we restore public confidence and take back control of our borders.”

Migration is high but UK job vacancies are still at 1.2m

by Charles Hymas, Home Affairs Editor, and Ben Butcher, Data Journalist

The number of people coming to the UK to live, work and study has hit a record high of nearly 1.35 million – yet there are still 1.2 million job vacancies in Britain today.

Home Office data on Thursday showed that the overall number of work, study, humanitarian and other visas issued for the year ending September 2022 was 1,342,991 – up 62 percent in just a year.

Net migration – the number coming to the UK minus those leaving – was also at a post-War record of 504,000, 170,000 more than the previous high of 331,000 in 2015, despite manifesto pledges by the Government to bring the headline figure down.

One of the arguments for immigration has been to boost growth and plug staff shortages but work visas only account for a third of those granted – and a portion of them are not necessarily in the areas of the economy where there are the most acute skill gaps.

Instead, as the Office for National Statistics (ONS), authors of the net migration figures, testify, immigration has been subject to a set of “unique” factors that have created a system ostensibly more liberal than that which existed before Brexit and one which has failed to plug a myriad of skill gaps.

The most obvious illustrations are the “legal but safe” humanitarian routes that have been opened because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and threats to freedom in Hong Kong.

This saw 89,000 Ukrainians, 76,000 Hong Kongers and 21,000 Afghans come to the UK in the year to June 2022, reaffirming the country’s tradition of offering refuge to those fleeing conflict, violence and threats to human rights.

It means visas other than work accounted for around a quarter of all those granted. Most of the Ukrainians who came were women and children, with around half of the adults having found jobs by the summer, according to survey data, many in low-paid jobs in the hospitality industry.

Students account for the largest proportion

By far the largest portion – nearly half – of the 1.4 million granted visas include students who also brought over their partners and children in record numbers.

A new high of 476,389 overseas students were granted visas in the year to September 2022, up 77 percent on 2019, with a fifth of them bringing 116,000 partners or children with them. That gives a total student visa count with dependents of nearly 600,000.

That figure is no accident but a deliberate policy by Boris Johnson’s government which committed in February 2021 to “increase the number of international students hosted in the UK to 600,000 by 2030” because of the potential economic and soft power benefits.

Mr. Johnson also relaxed the rules for students allowing them to work for up to two years after graduationwho accounted for 71,300 visas including 11,300 dependents in the past year.

This has proved an attraction for students from a wider range of countries, with the number from India trebling to 127,731 since 2019 to overtake China for the first time as the largest overseas nationality in UK universities.

Overseas students are allowed to work, up to 20 hours a week during term time, and unlimited time during holidays, but Madeleine Sumption, director of Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, said:A lot of foreign students are quite wealthy having been able to afford the fees so many tend not to work.”

The dramatic increase in foreign students – up 77 percent since 2019 – has also been fueled by undergraduates returning to their courses in the UK after studying remotely overseas during the pandemic.

Work visas increase

The number of work visas has increased by 82 percent to 248,919, largely fueled by non-EU migrants seeking employment in the UK rather than EU citizens.

The implementation of a points-based immigration system has opened up half of all jobs in the UK to foreign workers, by lowering salary and skill thresholds for migrants. Previously, employers also had to prove that a British worker could not be recruited to fill a vacancy before looking abroad.

The number of professions that qualify for skilled visas has been significantly expanded to include jobs such as chef, bricklayer, electrician, welder, health and care worker, while the government also removed caps on most visa routes.

The influx has, however, failed to solve skills shortages. “The people who are coming in are working in different jobs to the ones that EU citizens used to do,” said Ms. Sumption. “We have the unusual situation where there are shortages in low wage positions where employers previously relied on EU citizens.

“Despite the fact that there is relatively high immigration overall on average, non-EU citizens do slightly different jobs and are more skilled. They go for more professional occupations and we have a lot of people coming into the health sector. Those typically were not the jobs left vacant after the reduction in EU net migration.”

The largest groups of foreign workers are from India, Nigeria and the Philippines, who have traditionally gravitated to health and care. Doctors, nurses and care workers make up 55 percent of skilled work visas this year.

This has meant there are still acute shortages in areas dominated by eastern Europeans such as food processing, construction, retail, hospitality and cleaning despite a near doubling in work visas.

Action to curb the number of students bringing dependents

Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, have previously said industry cannot rely on cheap foreign labor but must train domestic workers to plug the gaps and expand the use of automation and technology.

The figures will also pile further pressure on the two ministers to introduce fresh measures following the Prime Minister’s pledge to cut net migration, a key Conservative Party manifesto commitment at the last election.

Downing Street hinted on Thursday that there could be action to curb the number of students bringing in dependents and those studying “low-quality” degrees.

However, Mr. Sunak has made that clear his priority is to tackle illegal immigrationwhere the figures are stark, not only with a record 42,000 migrants having crossed the Channel to reach the UK in small boats but also the crisis in asylum.

Home Office figures on Thursday showed asylum applications for the year ending September 2022 were at a two-decade high of 72,027, double the number in pre-pandemic 2019. The backlog has also hit a record high with 148,533 now waiting for asylum decisions. Of these, 97,717 have been waiting for more than six months.

On Thursday, No. 10 maintained the record highs in legal migration were “unique,” reflecting unprecedented global events like the Ukraine war. Mr. Sunak’s official spokesman said he remained committed to reducing net migration although he had not put a “specific date on that”.

Experts agree that they are exceptional – and will naturally reduce although it may take up to five years. “These unusually high levels of net migration result from a unique set of circumstances following the war in Ukraine and the recovery from the Covid-19 crisis,” said Ms Sumption.

“We cannot assume they represent a ‘new normal’, and it would be rash to take major policy decisions based only on these numbers. Some of the most important contributors to non-EU immigration are not expected to continue indefinitely, such as the arrival of Ukrainians.”

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