There have been a few announcements regarding changes to immigration policies as the Conservative government seeks to bring down net immigration to the UK and secure a victory in the next election. But with the seemingly ever-changing ministers and instability in government, it’s hard to know what’s really going to come into effect and when.
Part of the new announcement was that the minimum salary to sponsor a partner to the UK on the Partner or Spouse visa will rise significantly to £38,700, however, after pushback from the public and other ministers, this was brought back to £29,000 – still a significant leap from the current combined income of £18,600.
So what are the new immigration rules for international students?
New Rules for International Students
As of 1 January 2024, international students coming to the UK cannot bring their family members with them unless they are studying research-based courses above degree level including PhDs and research-based Master’s degrees. They must also be on government-funded scholarships.
The only family members allowed are the students’ partners and children, who will also have to pay the application fee and immigration health surcharge (IHS) to have their visa approved. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), from September 2018 to September 2019, only 14,839 visas were issued to the family members of international students, while that figure rose to 152,980 visas from September 2022 to September 2023.
Studying in the UK was previously an attractive prospect, especially if you could have your loved ones close by, but these new immigration rules will make it less appealing for international students to come to the UK.
Who Do the New Rules Affect?
If you started a course in the UK before 1 January 2024, your and your family’s rights to remain in the UK are not affected. However, if you started studying in the UK before 2024 and your family planned to join you in 2024, this is no longer possible due to the new restrictions unless you meet the new terms.
What are the Current Rules for International Students?
Other rules for international students have not changed and won’t change with the other rules coming into place in April 2024 for other visas such as Family visas and Skilled Worker visas. So if you are a foreign national looking to study in the UK without your family, you can still apply as normal and will experience the same rights to live, study, work and travel as other international students.
Applicants are simply required to collect the relevant documents, pay the application fee, ensure they have sufficient funds to cover the costs of their stay in their account for at least 28 consecutive days, pay the IHS and their application will be reviewed within 8 weeks. It may still be refused by the Home Office if they think you have lied on your application, you don’t have sufficient knowledge of the English language, or they believe you to have poor character based on prior convictions.
Can International Students Work in the UK while Studying?
International students can work while they study in the UK, however, they cannot undertake any job. International students must only work in fixed-term contracts, so their employment has an end date for their work to be approved. They also cannot be self-employed, including freelance, and cannot start, run or own a business.
Other jobs international students are not permitted to do are:
- Professional sportspeople
- Sports coaches
- Entertainers, including actors, musicians, dancers and performers unless they are students of those subjects at university and on work placements.
- Doctors or dentists in training
International students are also only permitted to work a certain number of hours during term time as they need to show they are committed to their learning – outside of term time, they can work full-time (40 hours a week for under 18s and 48 hours a week for over 18s).
During term-time, international students can only work:
- Up to 10 hours a week if studying below degree level
- Up to 20 hours a week if studying at degree level or above
Term time changes according to each educational institution, i.e. the students’ sponsoring institute, however, it refers to official course breaks. For example, sixth-form students have course holidays at Christmas, Easter and Summer, while some Master’s students don’t get a summer break as they need to do their coursework during this time. Check with your educational institutions for your official course vacation periods to avoid working more hours than you should and risking having your visa rescinded.
Can International Students Travel while Studying in the UK?
Like working while studying, international students’ first responsibility is to show commitment to their course, so they cannot travel during term time unless there is an emergency which they need to attend. If a student needs to travel for a funeral, for example, they can get a permission letter from their supervisor at their school or university.
Students must be aware, however, that their biometric residence permit does not grant them the same rights to travel as permanent residents or citizens of the UK, so they will have to get the necessary visas to travel to Ireland or other EU countries, for example, if their passport does not grant them visa-free entry to those countries. International students can travel within the UK, to England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands if they wish.
How Can International Students Stay in the UK after Studying?
It’s important that students don’t overstay their visa in the UK as they could face a ban on re-entering the UK at a later date, or even have to stay in a detention centre until arrangements are made for them to leave the country, depending on how long they overstay by.
If international students wish to stay on in the UK after their visa expires, they can:
- Extend their Student visa
- Apply for a Graduate visa
- Apply for a Spouse visa
- Apply for a Work visa
To extend a Student visa you need to show that you need to be in the UK for longer to complete your studies, or you can reapply for a new Student visa if you wish to continue studying at a higher level. In some cases, you can continue studying at the equivalent level of your previous course, if you can prove it will advance your career prospects.
A Graduate visa will allow you to stay in the UK for a further 2 to 3 years depending on your level of study, so you can continue working and travelling in the UK as you please. If your goal is to obtain indefinite leave to remain (ILR) also known as permanent residency, your time spent in the UK on a Student visa or Graduate visa does not count towards the five years needed in the UK to apply for ILR.
A Spouse or Partner visa is for people in long-term relationships with British residents or citizens, so if you are in a relationship or have married or entered a civil partnership with someone who meets the criteria to sponsor a partner to live in the UK, this is an excellent option for you to stay after your Student visa expires.
Switching to a Work Visa
Work visas are popular options for international graduates who wish to stay in the UK after their course ends. You can easily apply for a Work visa online after your course ends, however, which visa you apply for depends on which job you wish to go into.
Skilled Worker visas are one of the most popular options to switch to from a Student visa. Formerly known as a Tier 2 visa, this Work visa category is only an option for applicants who have a job offer from an approved sponsor for a job on the list of eligible occupations that meets the minimum salary requirements for that particular job.
Depending on how long they’ve been in the UK, they may also have to meet financial requirements, however, having completed a course in the UK will show sufficient knowledge of English.
Need Visa Help? Contact Synergy Immigration Solutions
If you need help applying for a visa or switching to a different visa while in the UK, contact Synergy Immigration Solutions for help.