Restrictions to Student and Dependant Visas and Expansion of Work Visa Shortage List to Include Construction Workers

As recent net immigration has reached an record high, which has flown in the face of the current government’s repeated promise to reduce net immigration, the government has been looking at how to reduce the number and has noted the considerable increase in Students’ families and Care Work visas.

The ONS estimated that net migration was over 500,000 from June 2021 to June 2022. Although partly attributed to temporary factors, such as the UK’s Ukraine and Hong Kong schemes, last year almost half a million student visas were issued while the number of dependants of overseas students has increased by 750% since 2019, to 136,000 people.

The government has decided to change the rules to deal with this. The statement of changes has made the following modifications to the student route.

  • Restrictions on switching from Student Visas

From the 17th of July 2023, those here on a Student Visa are not allowed to switch to a Work Visa until they have completed the studies for which they were given a visa. According to the government statement,

To prevent misuse of the visa system, overseas students will be stopped from switching from the student visa route into work routes until their studies have been completed.”

This is to stop the increasing numbers of students who come to undertake a course but would find a job as a carer and switch to the Health and Care visa before they finished the course.

  • Removal of International Students’ rights to bring their family

One of the reasons for the government to do this may be that it will restrict the ability of students to switch before the changes come in.

Following the massive increase in the number of Students Dependants, from the 1st of January 2024, Students will not be able to bring Dependants unless they are on a Post Graduate course currently designated as a research programme.

Currently, any international students coming to the UK to study at Masters level and above are allowed to bring Dependants. The rule changes will restrict those allowed to bring Dependants to PHD students, doctorate / research-based higher degree students or those on government-sponsored courses. These changes shouldn’t affect this September intake (2023).

  • Expansion of the Shortage Occupation list

Although the government thinks there is too much immigration, worker shortages still exist, especially in the construction and fishing industries, which relied heavily on European workers before Britain left the EU. As a result, the Home Office has implemented the recommendations of the Immigration Advisory Committee and added the following construction and fishing industry occupations to the Shortage Occupation list.

  • 5119 Agriculture and fishing trades not elsewhere classified – only jobs in the fishing industry
  • 5312 Bricklayers and masons – all jobs
  • 5313 Roofers, roof tilers and slaters – all jobs
  • 5315 Carpenters and joiners – all jobs
  • 5319 Construction and building trades not elsewhere classified –all jobs
  • 5321 Plasterers – all jobs
  • 9119 Fishing and other elementary agriculture occupations not elsewhere classified – only deckhands on large fishing vessels(nine metres and above) where the job requires the worker to have at least three years’ full-time experience using their skills. This experience must not have been gained through working illegally.

The significance of this is that people applying for jobs in these categories benefit from lower visa fees and lower salary thresholds (normally the minimum work visa salary is £25,000PA but for those jobs on the shortage occupation list, employers can pay as low as the minimum wage. It is not clear how helpful this will be to the industry, which used to depend on skilled EU labour. This could also be unpopular if the wages of those already working in construction are undercut. These changes will come into effect in the summer of 2023.

For construction and fishing industries to bring in workers from abroad, they will need to have a sponsor licence

Mixed Messages

Overall the government’s changes send out a rather mixed message, as it tries to reduce net immigration for students’ families on the one hand but also increase the visas granted to workers in the fishing or construction industries, who would inevitably come with their families. While the industries may welcome the move to add them to the shortage occupation list, it is unlikely to attract the skilled Eastern Europeans, many of whom used to come for the peak season and then return to their home country, given this extra hassle and expenses of applying for a visa. It is more likely to attract a person from outside the EU, whose requirement is more expensive for the employer due to proximity and more likely to come with family and to move here permanently