Braverman's ban on overseas student families addresses 'problem' her government created

ITV News' deputy political editor Anushka Asthana explains what this could mean for overseas students

Too much of government is arguably aimed at clearing up supposed problems of their own making.

One glaring example is Suella Braverman's announcement on abolishing the right of overseas students on undergraduate or non-research postgraduate courses to bring their spouses and children to the UK.

Here is the important background.

In their 2019 general election manifesto, Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party pledged to reduce net migration to the UK to less than the 212,000 per annum prevailing when they made that promise.

That target will be spectacularly missed in the lifetime of this Parliament. Under this government, new all-time records are being set for migration to the UK - with migration numbers far exceeding the flows from the EU that were seen by Brexiters as out of control.

Thus, on Thursday we'll learn from the Office for National Statistics that net migration last year was around 750,000, or more than four times the level that Johnson and the Tories said in their manifesto was unacceptable.

To be clear, there are plenty of economists and MPs, including Tory ones, who argue that even with net migration running at 750,000, UK public services, UK businesses and the UK economy would still benefit from more migration.

The world splits between those who believe migration is too high and those who say it is too low.

My point is different. The government is committed to the position that net migration is too high, whether you agree with it or not. That's what their manifesto says.

So what I am highlighting is that it was a decision taken by Boris Johnson in September 2019, three months before the election, that drove a coach, horses and herd of thundering wildebeest through his own migration target.

That's when he announced a policy of allowing overseas students to stay to work in the UK for two years after graduating. It led to a surge in applications from overseas citizens to study here.

So according to data from the Migration Observatory, UK visas granted to Indian people rose from 95,138 in 2018 to 327, 885 in 2022.

And the increase in visas given to those from Nigeria increased even more dramatically, from 14,044 to 158,451.

Many of these visas were in relation to students on nine-month masters courses - which were pretty good value by international standards, since masters in other countries are often two years, and don't necessarily bring with them a right to stay in the relevant country and work.

Of visas granted in 2022, 135,788 were issued to spouses and children of the students, compared with just 16,000 in 2019.

These visas for students' family members were around 10% of all visas issued last year.

Braverman's prohibition will very likely cut visa applications from those wanting to do master's degrees - though certainly not enough to reduce migration to anywhere near 212,000 per year.

In the process, many universities will lose valuable income, since these master's courses are relatively profitable for them.

Per contra, a reason for prohibiting family members of non-research students is the anecdotal evidence that schools near universities struggle to absorb the influx of overseas children.

But it is evidently the case that deterring Indians and Nigerians with families from coming to the UK - and the data shows they are more likely to come with families than Chinese students - deprives the UK of important skills and future friends.

Also, it's not as though the UK has a surplus of skills to create the wealth we need to fund our vital public services.

If the government wants to lessen the country's dependence on migration, it needs a credible policy to increase the productivity of those already here.

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