Shifting tides

The human side of UK’s student dependent visa ban

In a bid to control net migration, the UK government has implemented a contentious policy that bars international master’s students from bringing their dependents to the country while they pursue their studies. The rationale behind the decision hinges on the belief that a significant proportion of these dependents lack the necessary skills and qualifications to contribute meaningfully to the economy. As a result, only PhD and research students now have the privilege of bringing their families to the UK. This controversial measure has generated heated discussions and varying opinions.

Eager to hear diverse perspectives on this controversial issue, I spoke with Peter Green, a trustee at Dorset Race and Equality Council, about the potential impact of the ban on immigration, equality, and the UK as a whole.

Peter Green has been actively involved in promoting race equality and challenging discrimination for many years. When asked about the effect of the ban on efforts towards achieving equality, diversity, and integration, he was quite pessimistic. Green pointed out that the new legislation is specific about who can be brought into the country, focusing on the influx of people and undermining the broader goal of fostering an inclusive environment.

Peter Green. Trustee, Dorset Race and Equality Council.

Green acknowledged that the student-dependent visa system is sometimes abused. However, he contends that does not justify the sweeping nature of the newly proposed ban. “I think the government’s solution is what I might call a sledgehammer to crack the nut.” He mentioned. The broader implications of the policy, particularly for immigrants from Asia and Africa, should not be overlooked. According to Green, the ban could potentially exacerbate existing inequalities and further deepen prejudice against people from certain backgrounds.

While the economic argument for the ban does have its merits, Green argues that the contribution of international students and their dependents goes far beyond pounds and pence. The rich tapestry of ideas, perspectives, and experiences that these students bring to the UK enriches society as a whole. The ban does a disservice by reducing this complex issue into a single economic dimension. Instead of just focusing on the headline-grabbing measure, Green believes that any solution must be well thought out and calculated. The Home Office should invest in understanding the root causes of net migration and finding sensitive countermeasures. The color of one’s political allegiance, whether blue or other, should not dictate the efficacy of the response to net migration—a response that must be borne out of sound reasoning and humane consideration.

Speaking with Ikechukwu Nwachukwu, an international management masters student at Bournemouth University and the newly elected president of the Society of Nigerian Students, shared his initial disbelief upon hearing the news of the proposed ban. “When I first saw the news, I basically thought it was a joke, so I didn’t pay much attention to it until I saw the official statement,” he explained.

Ikechukwu Nwachukwu. Bournemouth University student and president of Society of Nigerian Students

The ban on student dependents visa is expected to have a significant impact on the international student community as a whole. “It will lead to a reduction in the number of international students coming to the UK,” Nwachukwu stated. Many international students pursuing master’s degrees are already married and have children, making it nearly impossible for them to leave their families behind for an extended period. This could deter potential students from choosing the UK as their study destination.

The impact of the ban on students and their families is expected to be minimal compared to the consequences for educational institutions. Nwachukwu pointed out that many international students may choose to study in other countries that are more understanding and accommodating toward their dependents. This shift could result in a loss of revenue for UK universities and colleges, as international students contribute significantly to the economy through their tuition fees and living expenses.

When asked about the potential impact of the ban on international students and their families, Samuel Ademuluyi, a Nigerian dependent of an international master’s student at Bournemouth University, stressed that the situation is heartbreaking. He noted that most master’s students fall within the age range of 25 to 40 – often young couples starting families. Banning dependents from accompanying their spouses or partners to the UK, Samuel argued, would disrupt family life and split homes. Moreover, he believes that the policy can have adverse effects on students’ academic performance, as they may struggle to concentrate in the absence of their loved ones.

Samuel Ademuluyi, U.K student’s dependent.

From Samuel’s experience, international students and their dependents substantially contribute to the UK economy. Not only do students and their dependents support the economy financially, but they also enrich the country’s labor force.  In Samuel’s view, the proposed ban is an unkind measure that fails to appreciate the contributions and sacrifices made by international students and their families. As the human side of the story often gets overshadowed by statistics and national narratives, his perspective reminds us of the need to maintain a sense of empathy and understanding when considering policy changes that directly affect the lives of thousands of individuals.

Jerry Whitton, placement coordinator, Bournemouth University

In an effort to gain insight into how the ban could impact the UK’s higher education sector, I spoke with Jerry Whitson, a placement coordinator with the Faculty of Media and Communication at Bournemouth University. Whitton, who helps students find and secure placements, admits that the proposal came as a surprise to him. He recognises the impact of the ban on families, which could also have knock-on effects on universities. From his perspective, Whitson believes that international students bring tremendous value to  institutions. By removing the option for student dependents to accompany their families to the UK, the policies could discourage such students from enrolling at British universities. This decline in international student enrolment could lead to negative consequences for the university funding and, by extension, the UK economy.

The insights gleaned from these conversations shed light on the intricate web of concerns and challenges that this recent decision has sparked. Understanding the broader implications of the ban is necessary to ensure that the UK remains an attractive destination for international students and maintains its vibrant academic landscape.

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