Foreign students and their dependents may face restrictions as net migration hits half a million

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Other options could include restricting students using the two-year graduate visas to remain in the UK doing low-skilled work and raising the wage threshold for skilled workers who have not been upgraded in line with inflation.

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

“We need to ensure that we have a sustainable, balanced and controlled approach, which is why we continue to keep our immigration policy 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 that we restore public confidence and take back control of our borders.”

Migration is high, but job vacancies in the UK are still at 1.2 million

by Charles Hymas, domestic 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 almost 1.35 million – yet there are still 1.2 million job vacancies in the UK today.

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

Net migration – the number coming to Britain minus those leaving – was also at a post-war record of 504,000, 170,000 more than the previous peak of 331,000 in 2015, despite manifesto promises by the government to bring the headline number down.

One of the arguments for immigration has been that increase growth and alleviate staff shortages but work visas make up only a third of those granted – and some of them are not necessarily within the areas of the economy where there are the most acute skill gaps.

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

The most obvious illustrations are the “legal but safe” humanitarian routes that have been opened due to 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 to the UK in the year to June 2022, confirming the country’s tradition of offering refuge to those fleeing conflict, violence and threats to human rights.

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

Students account for the largest share

By far the largest share – almost half – of the 1.4 million visas granted include students, who have also brought their partners and children in record numbers.

A new high of 476,389 overseas students were granted visas in the year to September 2022, a 77 per cent increase on 2019, with a fifth of them bringing 116,000 partners or children. This gives a total number of student visas with dependents of almost 600,000.

This figure is no accident, but a deliberate policy of Boris Johnson’s government, which in February 2021 committed 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.

Johnson also eased the rules for students allowing them to work for up to two years after graduationwhich 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 numbers from India tripling to 127,731 since 2019 to overtake China for the first time as the largest overseas nationality at 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: “Many foreign students are quite wealthy after being able to afford the fees, many tend not to work.”

The dramatic rise in overseas students – up 77 per cent since 2019 – has also been fueled by students returning to their courses in the UK after studying abroad during the pandemic.

Work visas are increasing

The number of work visas increased by 82 per cent to 248,919, mainly driven by non-EU migrants seeking work 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 the salary and qualification thresholds for migrants. Previously, employers also had to prove that a UK worker could not be recruited to fill a vacancy before applying abroad.

The number of occupations that qualify for skilled visas has been significantly expanded to include jobs such as cooks, bricklayers, electricians, welders, health and care workers, while the government also removed caps on most visa routes.

However, the influx has not managed to solve the lack of skills. “The people coming in are working in different jobs to what EU citizens used to do,” Ms Sumption said. “We have the unusual situation where there is a shortage of low-paid positions where employers were previously dependent on EU citizens.

“Despite relatively high immigration on average, non-EU citizens do slightly different jobs and are more qualified. They go for more professional occupations and we have a lot of people coming into the health sector. These were typically not the jobs that became vacant after the reduction in the EU’s net migration.”

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

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

Action to limit the number of students bringing dependents

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

The figures will also put further pressure on the two ministers to introduce new 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 limit the number of students bringing in relatives and those studying “low quality” degrees.

However, Mr. Sunak has made that clear his priority is tackling illegal immigrationwhere the numbers are stark, not only with a record 42,000 migrants crossing the Channel to reach Britain 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 awaiting asylum decisions . Of these, 97,717 have waited more than six months.

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

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

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

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