The United Kingdom has barred foreign students studying for Master’s from travelling with their family members. The move which affects all overseas students, from those in postgraduate research programmes, will take effect from January.
Tens of thousands of African postgraduate students will no longer be able to bring family members to Britain under reforms to curb migration, in a shift that will force future generations of top students to pursue opportunities elsewhere. It also removes the ability for international students to switch out of the student route into work before their studies have been completed.
Nigerians will be particularly hard hit by the rule change, which will come into force in January and applies to all foreign students. Students from Africa’s most populous country make up one of the biggest groups of foreign students in the UK and have in recent years brought more dependants — typically children and partners — than those from any other nation.
Home Office figures show Nigeria had 60,923 dependants of sponsored study visa holders in 2022. India, the world’s most populous nation, had the second highest number of dependants — 38,990.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s right-leaning government announced the new restrictions show 606,000 more people moved to Britain than left the country last year — a record high.
Tuition fee income from non-EU students has grown substantially over the last 20 years, making up nearly a fifth of UK universities’ total income in 2020/21, according to the Home Office. Despite this, Britain’s government has been accused of implementing anti-African policies in higher education. Late last year it launched a new program for postgraduate foreign students — High Potential Individual visa — but those with degrees from African universities are ineligible.
Britain’s attempts to curb the number of economic migrants entering the country will affect people across Africa — but Nigerians will be the big losers. With its large population, people from the West African country vastly outnumber other Africans pursuing higher education in Britain. According to data obtained from Home Office last year, Nigerians accounted for the highest increase in the number of dependants accompanying persons with study visas for the year ending in June 2022.
More young middle-class Nigerians with the means to travel have for the last couple of decades left the country to pursue education and better work opportunities overseas. The UK, Canada, and the United States are typically the preferred destinations and many do return. But dwindling employment opportunities, runaway inflation, a crumbling higher education system, and rising insecurity have sparked a large-scale exodus of young Nigerians in the last two years known locally as “Japa”. It’s a slang term meaning “flee” or “run” in the Yoruba language widely spoken in southwest Nigeria.
“We’re beginning to see that a lot of people just hide behind the studentship. So the student thing is not real, it’s not like they need the degrees,” Emdee Tiamiyu, a Nigerian influencer, told the BBC this week.
Tiamiyu apologized on his YouTube channel after a social media backlash in which he was accused of betraying Nigerians but the points he made ring true — for Nigerians who can afford it, studying in Britain and taking family offers a path out of Nigeria. Figures from Britain’s Home Office analysed by Semafor Africa back up the trend. It shows that five years after graduation a more significant proportion of Nigerians who arrived on a student visa remained in Britain on work visas.
But the era of using studies to migrate and take relatives is coming to an end.
Author: James Osondu
Sofia Bureau Chief- Bulgaria