A UK Government policy which will lead to most overseas students no longer be able to bring their dependents to the UK has been described as "appalling" by the Scottish Government, which stressed the important and valuable contribution overseas students bring.

Overseas students contribute more than £4 billion to the Scottish economy, representing benefits worth thousands of pounds for residents.

Figures state overseas students contribute more than £4 billion to the Scottish economy, representing benefits worth thousands of pounds for residents, but a new UK Government policy takes effect in January 2024 with severe restrictions around dependents.

In a statement on Tuesday, Secretary of State for the Home Department Suella Braverman outlined a new immigration policy which will limit the visa options for the families of overseas students.

Beginning in January, only international students who are registered in postgraduate research programmes will be allowed visas to bring their dependents to the UK. All other international students will be banned from bringing their dependents if they choose to study in the UK.

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The policy will also prevent students from switching from student route visas to work route visas before their studies have been completed.

A spokesman for Universities Scotland said that the new policy could leave “invaluable” international students feeling unwelcome at Scottish universities.

International students should be valued

According to Mrs Braverman, around 136,000 UK visas were granted to dependents of sponsored students in the year ending December 2022. That is more than eight times the 16,000 that were granted in 2019.

A Scottish Government spokesman said that it is important for Scotland to be able to attract and retain talented people to work and study without subjecting them to "excessive barriers".

HeraldScotland: Suella BravermanSuella Braverman

"It is appalling that the UK Government has announced its intention to restrict international students from bringing their dependant family members with them to the UK.

“Scotland welcomes international students to our universities and colleges and recognises the important and valuable contribution they make to our educational institutions, the Scottish economy and society.These students add to the diversity of our communities, enrich the learning experience, and support local business and jobs."

Alastair Sim, Director of Universities Scotland, said that the new policy will have to be implemented with care and in close partnership with university leaders.

"It will be very important that the UK Government works with the sector, across the UK, to first understand and then reflect on the likely impact of these changes on universities and their wider communities."

Foreign students represent a significant economic boost

He added: “International students make an invaluable contribution to Scotland, not just our universities and the wider economy.”

A report published last week found that the economic impact of students from overseas is worth around £4.75 billion to the economy.

Glasgow Central, which is home to 3,060 learners from overseas, reaps a benefit of £292 million–roughly £2,720 per local resident–according to the study. 

Contributions from overseas students in the Edinburgh East constituency equate to £268 million, or £2,420 per resident.

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Mr Sim said that these benefits shouldn’t be taken lightly and foreign students should be encouraged to study in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK.

“Ultimately, talent knows no borders. We want to have the sharpest, most inquisitive minds learning, teaching and researching here in Scotland. That benefits not just their university, but the nation and the world as a whole. International students need to know they are always welcome in Scotland.”

New policy part of larger goal to lower immigration numbers

Mrs Braverman told MPs: "This package strikes the right balance between acting decisively on tackling net migration and protecting the economic benefits that students can bring to the UK.

"Now is the time for us to make these changes to ensure an impact on net migration as soon as possible. We expect this package to have a tangible impact on net migration.

“We are committed to attracting the brightest and the best to the UK.

“Therefore, our intention is to work with universities over the course of the next year to design an alternative approach that ensures that the best and the brightest students can bring dependents to our world-leading universities while continuing to reduce net migration.”