UK dependants policy: Nigerians to look at other destinations

The United Kingdom’s new policy that curbs the number of dependants that international students are allowed to bring along when pursuing their studies in UK universities is not going down well with Nigerians and may force them to seek alternatives, University World News has learnt.

Under proposals released in parliament by UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman, aimed at curbing net migration, overseas students will no longer be able to bring family with them except students on courses designated as research programmes, such as PhDs or research-led masters courses.

Additionally, the government will remove the ability for international students to switch out of the student route into work routes before their studies have been completed.

Data from the UK Home Office shows that 66,796 dependant visas were issued to families of Nigerian students from March 2022 to March 2023. This is a 146% increase from the 27,137 dependants who migrated from the most populous African nation to the UK from March 2021 to March 2022.

Ballooning numbers

Tertiary institutions in the UK have become the preferred learning destinations for many Nigerian students since 2019 when the UK launched (and revised in 2021) an International Education Strategy that placed Nigeria as one of five high-priority countries to focus on in it is recruitment efforts.

According to the National Association of Nigerian Students there were about 30,000 Nigerian students enrolled in UK universities in the 2021/2022 session paying about £2 billion (US$2,5 billion) in return as school fees.

The surge in in Nigerian students saw a 107% increase in students from Nigeria, whose number reached 44,195 in 2021/22. The UK Home Office recorded in its statistics published on 23 February 2023 that 485,758 sponsored study visas were granted in 2022, 81% more than in 2019.

Meanwhile, Braverman highlighted the spike in the influx of dependants as “unexpected”.

Braverman had said, “The immigration statistics also highlighted an unexpected rise in the number of dependants coming to the UK alongside international students. About 136,000 visas were granted to dependants of sponsored students in the year ending December 2022, a more than eightfold increase from 16,000 in 2019, when the government's commitment to lower net migration was made.”

The largest percentage of these were to dependants of Indian and Nigerian students.

Students’ contribution

In spite of the statistics confirming the explosive growth of immigration in recent years, affected Nigerians believe that Braverman’s proposed policy has a narrow focus.

University World News found that Nigerians believe they are likely to be disproportionately affected by the ban when it comes into effect in 2024. According to them, preventing students from taking their family abroad would only cause emotional trauma, limited performance, and eventually defeat the purpose of study.

Some respondents also took offence to perceived allusions that they are a problem, expressing that international students add wealth and value to the UK economy.

For instance, John Babadara, an agri-food development practitioner, pointedly spotlighted the effects of immigration on the UK economy.

“The UK will not tell its citizens how much value and productive hours Nigerian students have brought to their country. In 2021 alone, Nigerian students and their dependants contributed an estimated £1.9 billion to the UK economy,” he said.

The agro-practitioner’s statements are corroborated by the statistics analysed by SBM Intelligence from the 2021/2022 academic year shows that Nigerian students and their spouses made an estimated £1.9 billion in economic contributions to the UK in the previous year.

Similarly, a Nigerian journalist and publisher of The Republic, Wale Lawal, wondered how the UK could charge exorbitant fees for visas and still frame the legal immigration discourse like it’s something they ‘hand out’.

“Students bring dependants to the UK, okay but is it free? The real question, which no one seems to be asking, is what has the UK government been doing with all that money? Are foreign students – who pay higher international school fees and ridiculous health surcharges – suddenly the reason teachers and NHS staff are underpaid?,” he asked.

Speaking to Channels TV London, Toyyib Adewale Adelodun, a personal development coach also expressed that the relationship between the UK and international students is one of mutual benefits, not parasitic.

According to him, the students cannot access public funds. “They bring in £41 billion in terms of economic value. You want 600,000 students and don’t want their dependants. Balance is the key. Dependants are contributing to the economy.

Ugochukwu Madu, a Nigerian academic currently earning a PhD overseas, shares similar views.

“The UK makes billions from international student tuition fees, remittances and tax payments, which further boosts the strength of its currency and economy,” he said in response to the announcement.

Accusing the British Government of dealing dishonestly, he said, “You go to the media and announce that you want 600k people in your country on an annual basis. The same country goes to the media to say hey, too many people are coming to our country, we don’t want you. Who invited them in the first place?”

To the National Association of Nigerian Students, the policy is ‘inhumane’. It said the UK should be creating rules that would solidify relationships and build families and not rules that break families and set them apart.

In a statement signed by NANS Vice-president of External Affairs Akinteye Babatunde Afeez , the body called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) and other stakeholders to prevail on the government of the UK to rescind the new policy.

Seeking alternatives

There are indications that the new policy may reduce Nigerians’ attraction for UK institutions.

While accepting that bringing along family members may impose a significant burden on the public treasury in the UK, a top education researcher, Dr Peter Ogudoro, explained that Nigerians prefer to advance with their families.

The new policy may sway Nigerians to start looking for alternative education destinations, he told University World News.

“There are other countries that will give you something that is close to what the UK offers, and those countries including New Zealand, and Australia, among others, may start competing for students who are coming from Nigeria,” the researcher added.

A doctoral student in the management department of the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, Chinelo Ugwu, said the UK decision will not stop Nigerians from seeking to study abroad. “Rather this decision will make Nigerians explore other countries where the dependants are welcome.

“Family means a lot to Africans so this policy will benefit other countries whose GDP will be boosted by the influx of Nigerians,” he said.

Canada may be one of the countries likely to attract Nigerians. Daniel Olabintan, a consultant and CEO of Elders Travels and Tours Limited, an agency accredited by the Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to facilitate the arrival of immigrants to Canada, told University World News that there has been an upsurge in the number of applicants seeking to study via the Canadian route.

According to him, “Canada has been the hot thing in the last few days. At the moment, Canada is accepting families of dependants and the process is easy. Once the documentation is okay, your case will be treated. All the backlogs for Canada Permanent Residents have reduced drastically,” he further explained.

However, on the flipside, evidence has been emerging during May that Canada’s immigration authorities turn down 72% of African students.

However, looking at the UK policy from a different perspective, Stanley Ihedigbo, a mass communication lecturer and the deputy director of information, communication and public relations, Wesley University, a private institution in the southwest part of Nigeria, said the UK’s decision to cut down on the number of dependants is to protect its own interests.

“Whatever it takes for the UK to protect the country is paramount, no matter the money they are making from Nigerian students,” he told University World News.

However, he thinks Nigerians have a choice if they don't want to go to the UK. “We have better universities in Nigeria that will offer the same quality of education as the UK. Some people abroad send their children back to Nigeria for better university education.”