Foreign students could be blocked from attending all but the best UK universities under Rishi Sunak’s plan to cut immigration numbers

  • Rishi Sunak said to be mulling action, along with a blanket ban on dependents
  • PM yesterday vowed immigration will fall, hinted at crackdown on student visas
  • Universities UK president said move would force some universities to close
  • Professor Steve West said it would be ‘a complete disaster across the country’

Universities warned of potential job loses today amid claims foreign students could be banned from entering Britain unless they have a place at a top university.

Rishi Sunak is said to be mulling the action, along with a blanket ban on overseas students bringing their families with them, as he tries to get a grip on immigration.

The Prime Minister yesterday vowed that immigration will fall and hinted at a crackdown on student visas after net numbers coming to the UK soared to a ‘breathtaking’ record high of 504,000 in the year to June. 

Downing Street indicated last night that plans to bring overall numbers down could include putting up barriers for international students’ loved ones and restricting admissions to top universities.

But Universities UK president Prof Steve West said any move to restrict overseas student numbers would force some universities to close. Many rely on funding from fees far in excess of those paid by UK students. 

‘That’d be a complete disaster across the country in towns and cities that rely on unis … to attract inward investment,’ he told LBC.

Rishi Sunak is said to be mulling the action, along with a blanket ban on overseas students bringing their families with them, as he tries to get a grip on immigration.

But Universities UK president Prof Steve West said any move to restrict overseas student numbers would force some universities to close. Many rely on funding from fees far in excess of those paid by UK students.

‘Businesses are attracted to where universities are …  we’re talking in terms of tens of billions of pounds to the economy. 

‘I don’t think we can afford to turn our backs on what is an incredibly successful export industry.’

The move would be in line with proposals being explored by Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who has previously complained about foreign students ‘bringing in family members who can piggyback onto their student visa’ and ‘propping up, frankly, substandard courses in inadequate institutions’.

Around 504,000 more people are estimated to have moved to the UK than left in the 12 months to June 2022, up sharply from 173,000 in the year to June 2021.

The estimates were compiled by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which said the jump was driven by ‘unique’ factors including visa schemes for Ukrainians and Hong Kong citizens, and students arriving from outside the European Union.

People arriving on study visas accounted for the largest proportion of long-term immigration of non-EU nationals, at 277,000, or 39% of the total, the according to the ONS.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman insisted Mr Sunak was ‘fully committed’ to bringing overall immigration levels down and blamed ‘unprecedented and unique circumstances’ for the record high.

The official said: ‘We’re considering all options to make sure the immigration system is delivering, and that does include looking at the issue of student dependents and low-quality degrees.’

But such moves could meet resistance from other parts of Whitehall.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt last week insisted that immigration is required to boost growth.

‘There needs to be a long-term plan if we’re going to bring down migration in a way that doesn’t harm the economy,’ he said.

‘We are recognising that we will need migration for the years ahead – that will be very important for the economy.’

The Department for Education could raise concerns over universities’ funding if the number of high fee-paying international students is cut.

Migration from non-EU countries, specifically students, drove the rise in levels of long-term immigration, said Jay Lindop, ONS deputy director of the centre for international migration.

‘With the lifting of travel restrictions in 2021, more students arrived in the UK after studying remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic,’ she added.

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