More Nigerians were granted sponsored study or student visas by the United Kingdom as the number almost doubled in one year, according to new official immigration data.
The data from the British government on Thursday shows that of the top five nationalities granted sponsored study visas, Nigerian nationals saw the most significant percentage increase, up 73 per cent from 33,958 in the year ending June 2022 to 58,680 in the year ending June 2023.
This means that 24,722 Nigerians were granted sponsored study visas within the period under review.
According to experts, Nigeria’s high intellectual capabilities, cheap labour, sizeable working population, high diaspora remittances, and the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union are why the UK is scouting for Nigerians.
“They are looking for Africans not out of love but for the love of skills, especially those that can prepare them ahead of the future,” Kemi Ogunkoya, a Lagos-based leadership development strategist, said.
She added that Nigeria, which has a large population, has a lot of educated people. “So, it is more about the prosperity of the country and economic benefit they will derive.”
According to Jennifer Oyelade, director of Transquisite Consulting, European countries will continue to look for more Nigerians to come into their region because it financially works best for them.
“Secondly, they believe Nigerians will be able to fill the unemployment gaps caused by the great resignation across Europe,” she said.
A recent article by Matthew Page, a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, noted that British independent schools, especially private boarding ones, view Nigeria as an increasingly attractive market.
“Most of them warmly welcome Nigerian students and overwhelmingly see them as better-than-average performers and net contributors,” he said.
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.
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 annually by 2030.
The strategy commits to previously established goals for foreign enrolment growth, which new immigration routes and work opportunities for international students have replaced. It intends to create clearer pathways to immigration.
This growth will be achieved through the Graduate route, launched in July 2021. The course 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.
The immigration data also revealed that Africa’s most populous nation had the highest number of dependents (67,516) of sponsored study visa holders in the year ending June 2023, more than twice the number (31,791) ending June 2022.
“Indian nationals had the second highest number of dependents, increasing from 24,858 to 43,552. The increases for Nigeria and Indian dependents reflect the increases seen in main applicants and are fairly in proportion to those changes,” it said.
However, the number of sponsored study visa holders and their dependents might decline next year because the UK’s recent visa policy restricts the number of families for international students due to increased net migration.
“The UK is a top destination for the brightest students to learn at some of the world’s best universities. But we have seen an unprecedented rise in student dependents being brought into the country with visas,” Suella Braverman, UK’s home secretary, said in May.
She said it is time for us to tighten up this route to ensure we can cut migration numbers and meet the government’s pledge to the British people to cut net migration.
“Students with families from Nigeria will most likely apply to study in Canada, Germany, France, Finland or Australia next year,” @OgbeniDipo tweeted via his Twitter handle.
“Europe has a population problem as it has an ageing population. This restriction will shed more light on other countries looking for skilled workers,” Toyyib Adelodun, a UK-based immigration consultant, said.
He said most of the tuition fees in European countries are not expensive, but the language barrier is the only problem. “But if Nigerians are determined to stay, they can overcome that problem.”
High poverty, unemployment, poor human capital development, insecurity and poor education are significant reasons many Nigerians are leaving the country in search of greener pastures.
Seeking higher education abroad has become a significant means of permanent emigration.
Ogunkoya said the ‘japa’ wave (a Yoruba word for “run quickly”) will continue to widen the talent shortages, and even the quality of talent left behind will be a problem for companies.
“So it is heavily dependent on the policies of the government. They must be more proactive by developing a strategic national plan to develop our human capital and improve our economy over the next five or ten years. Otherwise, organisations will be in a losing battle,” she added.
According to Ikemesit Effiong, head of research at SBM Intelligence, up until now, the government’s approach towards engaging with the Nigerian diaspora has been hazardous at best or non-existent at worst.
“The fact that they left does not mean that we have to break up any engagement with them. We need a deliberate engagement strategy to attract skilled talents from Nigeria. We have to keep that engagement going so that their only connection in Nigeria will not be only sending remittances to their loved ones,” he said.