• Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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BusinessDay

UK student visas to Nigerians, Indians rose most in 5 years

Lamentations in UK as international students number drop on strict student visa rule

Nigeria and India are the countries that accounted for the most increase in student or sponsored study visas granted by the United Kingdom in five years, according to new official immigration data.

The data published by the British government on Thursday said the majority of the increase in main applicants between 2019 and 2023 were from Indian (+85,849) and Nigerian (+35,366) nationals.

“These same nationalities together accounted for 65 percent of all sponsored study visas issued to dependants in 2023 (compared with 29 percent in 2019),” the British government said on its website.

It said last year, there were 457,673 sponsored study visas granted to main applicants, five percent fewer than in 2022 but 70 percent higher than in 2019.

The immigration data also revealed that Indian (18,664), Nigerian (18,143) and Zimbabwean (15,279) nationals together represented almost six in 10 (58 percent) of visas granted to ‘Care workers and home carer’ occupations in 2023.

“Over half (51 percent) of grants for ‘Nurses’ were to Indian nationals with 11,322 grants, and Indian nationals represented just under a third (32 percent) of ‘Senior care workers’ with 5,301 grants,” it said.

Africa’s most populated nation has in recent years seen a mass exodus of talent, popularly called ‘japa’ (a Yoruba word for “run quickly”), due to high poverty, unemployment, insecurity and poor education.

Data from the National Bureau of Statistics shows that the country’s headline inflation rate for the 13th consecutive time in January to 29.90 percent from 28.92 percent in the previous month.

Food inflation which constitutes 50 percent of the inflation rate rose to 35.41 percent from 33.93 percent.

The World Bank’s latest Nigeria Development Update report revealed that rising inflation and sluggish growth in Africa’s biggest economy increased the number of poor people to 104 million in 2023 from 89.8 million at the start of the year.

The country’s unemployment rate also increased to 5.0 percent in the third quarter of 2023 from 4.2 percent in the previous quarter. It stood at 4.1 percent in Q1, down from 5.3 percent in Q4 of 2022.

The exodus of talent has led to the dearth of skilled workers in the key sectors.

“The finance and insurance, professional services, and IT sectors are expected to be hit the hardest. The migration of skilled workers could significantly impact the performance of these sectors and the overall economy,” a recent report by Phillips Consulting Limited said.

The report, which surveyed 1,054 Nigerian adults aged 18 or older between August 24 and September 3, 2022, showed that more than half of Nigerian highly skilled employees plan to quit their jobs and relocate abroad this year.

“Twenty-two percent plan to migrate abroad within the next two to three years, while 26 percent are still determining their plans or have no intention of relocating abroad,” it added.

Experts said apart from Nigeria’s high intellectual capabilities, other reasons why the UK is scouting for Nigerians are cheap labour, a large working population, high diaspora remittances and the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union.

British independent schools, especially private boarding ones, view Nigeria as an increasingly attractive market, according to Matthew Page, a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“Most of them warmly welcome Nigerian students and overwhelmingly see the students as better-than-average performers and net contributors,” he said in a recent article.

The UK, one of the most advanced economies in the world and top places to study, operates an immigration system underpinned by the principle of visa sponsorship.

The sponsor for immigration purposes is the educational institution where the student will study and the visa is issued for a particular course at the institution.

In 2019, the UK updated its International Education Strategy. The update reaffirmed the government’s goals of increasing the value of its education exports to £35 billion ($48 billion) and hosting at least 600,000 international students per year by 2030.

The strategy commits to previously established goals for foreign enrolment growth, which have been replaced by new immigration routes and work opportunities for foreign students. It intends to create clearer pathways to immigration.

Some of the ways in which this growth is to be achieved is the Graduate route, which was launched in July 2021. The route will allow eligible students to stay in the UK to work, or look for work, for two years (three years if studying at PhD level) after they have completed a degree in the UK. Others are high-potential individual visas, global talent visas and scale-up visas.

India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Nigeria, Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, Europe, China, and Hong Kong are the markets spotlighted as priorities for the UK.

The minimum 600,000 target was achieved in 2021 as the total number of international students hit 605,130 and 679,970 in 2021 and 2022 respectively.

However the number of sponsored study visa holders and their dependents might decline in 2024 on the back of the UK’s recent visa policy restricting the number of families for international students due to an increase in net migration.

“Following a recent policy change, for courses starting on or after 1 January 2024, only research-based postgraduate students are now allowed to bring dependants (partners and children) to the UK,” the British government said.

Apart from dependents of students’ visas, the country announced a plan last December to slash migration levels and curb abuse of the immigration system, delivering the biggest-ever reduction in net migration.

“It is clear that net migration remains far too high. By leaving the European Union we gained control over who can come to the UK, but far more must be done to bring those numbers down so British workers are not undercut and our public services are put under less strain,” James Cleverly, UK’s home secretary said in a statement.

He added that the plan will deliver the biggest-ever reduction in net migration and will mean around 300,000 people who came to the UK last year would not have been able to do so.

“I am taking decisive action to halt the drastic rise in our work visa routes and crack down on those who seek to take advantage of our hospitality.”