UK Reduces Immigration Rights for International Students and Dependants

A photo of London, England, featuring Big Ben.

The United Kingdom has announced a package of immigration rights changes affecting international students and their families. 

Students will no longer be able to bring dependants to the UK with them, unless the student is taking postgraduate courses designated as research programmes (this mainly refers to PhDs). In addition, international students can no longer switch from student routes into work routes before finishing their studies. Changes like these were expected, based on recent reporting as detailed in our article last week

The news was shared in an official immigration update statement released by the UK Secretary of State for the Home Department on May 23, 2023. 

An illustrated map of the UK with a stylized Union Jack.

What Are the New Measures? 

The UK government is introducing several measures aimed at reducing overall migration to the UK. These include: 

  • Removing the right for international students to bring dependants into the UK unless the student is enrolled in a postgraduate research programme.
  • Removing the option for international students to switch from the student route into a work route before finishing their studies. 
  • Reviewing maintenance requirements for current students and dependants.
  • Limiting inappropriate student visa applications aimed at achieving immigration over education.
  • Better communicating these immigration rules to international students.
  • Increasing enforcement activity.

These new restrictions will come into effect beginning in January of 2024. The Graduate route that enables students to stay back and look for work for two years after the successful completion of their studies remains unchanged. 

An illustration of a female international student smiling and holding a textbook.

Which Students Are Exempt? 

Starting next year, the only international students who will be allowed to obtain visas for their dependants will be postgraduate students on research programmes. 

Postgraduate research programs require completing a major supervised research project. These may include some research-based master’s degrees, but primarily doctorate (PhD) programs.

As expected, this means the new measures will primarily affect taught master’s students who plan to bring family with them during their studies. 

The Graduate Route is Unchanged

The official statement did specify that the terms of the Graduate route will remain the same, meaning that students who stay to look for work in the UK after graduating may still apply to bring their family into the country at that time. 

Unfortunately for the UK higher education sector, this benefit for graduates may not be enough to stop incoming international students from choosing another study destination. Thankfully, there are many alternate destination options available for those prioritising bringing their family with dependency visas.

An illustration of the United Kingdom's flag, the Union Jack.

We expect more details from the UK government later this year, and ApplyBoard will continue reporting on key news updates.

Have questions? Wondering what your options are? ApplyBoard can guide you or your students from application to arrival. Email us anytime for support at


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