According to the Home Office, the UK has set a new record for the number of study visas granted to overseas students and their dependents. UK immigration officers granted a total of 428,428 study permits in the fiscal year ending September 2021, which equates to:
- 143 per cent higher than the year ending September 2020;
- 55 per cent higher than the year ending September 2019; and
- 29 per cent higher than the previous high of 3,07,744 set more than a decade ago in June 2010.
The great majority of visas were given to students rather than family members: “90 per cent of [student] visas given are to main applicants, compared to 68 per cent for Work Visas,” according to the UK government.
In the context of Covid, the visa numbers for 2021 represent not only a significant comeback for the UK’s overseas education sector but also a fascinating new record.
There have never been more visa-holding overseas students studying in the United Kingdom. Almost all of these pupils (91%) are enrolled in college. In 2021, EU/EEA students received just about 20,775 visas (9 per cent of all visas awarded), compared to hundreds of thousands of visas issued to non-EU students.
Chinese students received more than 135,450 visas, while Indian students received over twice the number of visas (90,970), compared to just 30,490 in 2019. It should be mentioned that, in comparison to other regions of the world, movement from the EU to the UK appears to be limited this year:
“Although there are no comparable visa figures due to this being the first year [EU] nationals have needed a visa, the rough total of 20,000 does not look high when compared with the 64,000 EU students who started courses in the UK in 2019-20, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.”
The uptick started in September 2020, accelerated into the summer of 2021, and topped in August and September 2021. The number of visas granted in September 2021 (approximately 1,40,000) was more than double that of September 2019. (pre-Covid). The government explained the growth citing several reasons:
- “Students who either deferred starting a course took a break from studying and are now restarting, or began a distance course last year and did not opt to apply for a visa at that moment could be increasing in number as they return to in-person educational settings,” according to the government.
- “From 2017 to the pandemic, there was a robust annual growth in student visas, averaging almost 10% per year over the time,” says the report.
- New immigration rules are in place, including the UK Graduate Route, which students can apply for starting in July 2021.
- The immigration pathway permits international students with degrees from UK universities to work or look for jobs in the UK for up to two years following graduation.
Although China and India continue to be the UK’s top sending markets, Nigeria is rising at a breakneck pace which is far faster than China. In 2021, 36,783 visas were awarded to Nigerian nationals, up 347 per cent from September 2020.
The UK has lost momentum in Nigeria to other locations over the last decade, so the significant increase in study visas will be great news to UK educators. The number of visas awarded to Pakistanis increased by 225 per cent, and the number of visas issued to Bangladeshis increased by 410 per cent.
Bangladesh has overtaken India as the UK’s sixth-largest source of students. The number of study visas awarded to Americans increased by only 3% in 2019 compared to the previous year, which is more in line with EU growth trends than Asia and Africa. According to a recent assessment of US educational institutions, the US international education sector is likewise on the mend after sharp falls in 2020.
This fall, moreover two-thirds of the nearly 860 higher education institutions (68 per cent) reported an increase in international enrolments. However, growth in the US is unlikely to be as strong as it is in the UK because demand for the new post-study employment privileges provided to all international students is a key component of the latter country’s rise.
For the last several years, the lack of these rights dampened interest in UK education among many international students, particularly from India, which is now visibly recovering.