20 July 2023
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UK Immigration Update: Student Visa reforms and latest developments

To The Point

There have been a number of immigration developments in recent weeks.  We take a look at three immigration "need to knows" for employers including the proposed Home Office changes to student visas, particularly the removal of the right for students to bring dependents to the UK with them.  We also look at the latest Home Office statistics which show the slow uptake of the various Global Business Mobility routes since their introduction and outline the move towards "digital immigration status" which is beginning to replace Biometric Residence Permits for certain migrants.  

Reforms to student visas

The Home Office has announced several new measures to be implemented regarding student visas that will come into force in January 2024. The Home Office stated that the measures it is proposing will ensure that it can continue to meet its international education strategy commitments whilst reducing net migration in line with the Government's 2019 manifesto.  

Currently, a student in the UK on a student visa can bring their partner and children with them to the UK as dependents so long as the student is on a postgraduate level course that lasts nine months or longer and meets the financial requirements.  

The measures that the Home Office has proposed include: 

  • removing the right for international students to bring dependents (unless they are on postgraduate courses currently designated as research programmes); 
  • removing the ability for international students to switch out of the student route into work routes before their studies have been completed; 
  • reviewing the maintenance requirements for students and dependents; 
  • taking steps against "unscrupulous education agents who may be supporting inappropriate applications to sell immigration not education"; 
  • improving the communication of immigration rules to the higher education sector and to international students; and 
  • operating improved and more targeted enforcement activity. 

No further guidance has been published in relation to the proposed measures and the terms of the graduate route remain unchanged. 

We will keep you updated when any further guidance is released.  

Increase in approved sponsor employers but uptake in Global Business Mobility routes remains low

The number of Home Office-approved employer sponsors has increased by around 35,000 since the same time last year. On 13 June 2023, there were almost 80,000 licensed sponsor employers in the UK, up from around 45,000 in June 2022. This increase year on year is an indication that UK employers are using international recruitment to alleviate talent shortages.  

Skilled Worker sponsors account for the majority of employer sponsor licences (79%). 12% of sponsors have a Global Business Mobility - Senior or Specialist Worker licence, and the remaining work routes account for only 9%. 

Whilst the uptake in Skilled Worker sponsor licences has accelerated, the latest statistics demonstrate the slow uptake in the other Global Business Mobility routes (other than the Senior or Specialist Worker route (which replaced the Intra-company Transfer route)) since their introduction. 

Biometric Residence Permits (BRP) replaced by digital immigration status  

Employers may be aware that migrants from certain countries are already beginning to see BRPs being replaced with a "digital immigration status". The Home Office announced in 2022 that it intended to digitalise immigration status information for all and that BRPs would only be issued up to 31 December 2024, by which point they will be replaced by digital "e-visas". 

Individuals who are non-visa nationals and directed to and able to use the "UK Immigration ID Check" app at the beginning of the visa application process should expect to receive an e-visa, i.e. a digital immigration status, rather than receiving a BRP. Individuals who are not eligible to use the app will still receive a BRP for the time being. It is unclear whether individuals who are visa nationals using the app will receive BRPs or an e-visa. 

Where people are issued with a digital immigration status rather than a BRP, they will be able to view their details and immigration status online and will no longer receive any hard copy documents proving immigration status. 

Please reach out to a member of the Immigration team if you have any queries on digital e-visas, BRPs or sponsor licences. 

To the Point 

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