Rishi Sunak is considering a crackdown on foreign students bringing dependents and studying “low-quality” degrees after net migration hit its highest level since World War II.
Downing Street has indicated that plans to bring the total down could include building barriers for international students’ loved ones and reducing admissions to lower-ranked universities.
This would be in line with proposals being examined by Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who has previously complained about foreign students “bringing in family members who can piggyback on their student visas” and “frankly supporting inferior courses in inadequate institutions”.
An estimated 504,000 more people came to the UK than last yeara number greater than the population of Liverpool.
The estimates were compiled by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which said the jump was driven by “unique” factors, including visa arrangements for Ukrainians and Hong Kong citizens, and more students arriving from outside the EU following the lifting of the COVID- restrictions.
People arriving on student visas accounted for the largest proportion of long-term immigration by non-EU nationals at 277,000 or 39% of the total, according to the ONS.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman insisted Mr Sunak was “fully committed” to bringing down overall immigration levels and blamed “unprecedented and unique circumstances” for the record.
The official said: “We are considering all options to ensure the immigration system delivers and that includes looking at the issue of student dependency and low-quality degrees.”
Such a move could face opposition from other parts of Whitehall such as the Department for Education, which could raise concerns about university funding if the number of high-paying international students is cut.
The Russell Group of elite universities told the paper that large numbers of foreign students “should be seen as a UK success story” and highlighted official figures showing that those on study visas are 97.5% compliant when they leave when their right to remain expires.
Sky News understands plans for a crackdown on student visas have not progressed since the Home Secretary said she would look into October, with the Home Office more focused on tackling small boat crossings – or what it calls “illegal immigration”.
A record 40,000 migrants have crossed the channel to Britain this year, compared to 28,561 crossings recorded in 2021.
Ms Braverman came under fire this week when she failed to explain the alternative safe and legal routes to Britain for asylum seekers escaping war.
During a grilling by MPs on the Home Affairs Committee, the Home Secretary admitted that “we have failed to control our borders”.
She insisted: “That is why the Prime Minister and I are absolutely determined to solve this problem.”
The government wants to deport migrants to Rwanda for processing to deter people from making the dangerous crossing of the Channel – but the plan has been held up by a series of legal challenges.
And under a recently concluded agreement with FranceThe UK’s annual payments to Paris to help monitor the border are set to rise to €72m (£63m) in 2022/23, from €62.7m (£54.8m) for 2021/22.