Nigerian students rush to secure UK places before dependants ban

With the UK set to crack down on dependant visas for international students from January 2024, some agencies have been advertising on social media advising students to apply for the September 2023 university intake. 

“People are scrambling to get here for September that are bringing families,” said Jamie Hastings, director at My International Office, which works with students in Nigeria, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.

He added that the new policy is “not going down well across the board” and students feel it is “unfair”.

In a paid advert on Facebook, one Nigerian agency wrote: “Are you planning on studying and relocating to the UK with your family? 

“The right time is now, because from January 2024, the UK won’t allow Dependants to follow Students”. 

Another wrote, “This is final call to apply. Dependents will not travel after September intake.” 

In Nigeria, agents say they have seen a surge in students applying for UK universities. “While it is still early to make conclusive statements, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of students applying to UK universities for the September ‘23 intake,” said Beatrice Adegbiji, placement officer at Nubi Educational Counselling. 

“It appears that many students are still motivated to secure their study plans before the changes come into effect and it looks like there may be a surge for the intake.”

There have been huge jumps in the number of Nigerians studying in the UK in recent years. Over 59,000 Nigerians were granted study visas in 2022, compared to 6,798 in 2019. 

Nigerians also bring the most dependants out of all nationalities (60,923 in 2022), so the recent decision by the Home Office to ban most international students from bringing family members to the UK with them is expected to reduce demand after September 2023. 

Meanwhile in India, the second-largest dependant market, agents reported normal levels of interest in the September 2023 intake – but some observed that any students intending to marry may reconsider their overseas study destination as a result of the new policy.

Sadiq Basha, CEO at Edvoy, which works with students from multiple locations, said the agency hasn’t seen a noticeable increase and that students are starting to consider other destinations instead of the UK.

“We have some concern for the future, particularly in South Asia and Africa markets, that we are more likely to see a shift in 2024 and beyond towards Canada and Australia,” he added.

Parin Shah, CEO at Back2Study, agreed that some Indian students are now exploring other options, even if they don’t have dependants.

Many Indians marry in their mid-20s so choosing to study in the UK could mean putting this off if they want to pursue the graduate route, where they would also be unable to bring dependants, he explained.

“There are universities which want to capitalise on the September intake as they know that a big chunk of incoming students would disappear from January,” he added.

“A lot of incoming students who [were] quite happy and motivated for UK are thinking other ways, because Australia and Canada are more inviting in terms of dependants,” Shah said. 

He also claimed that other universities are actively ignoring those they suspect of having dependants (something students don’t have to disclose in their applications) as they don’t have capacity to support families.

There may be a longer-term impact on Nigerian student behaviour once the dependant ban is in place, agreed Hastings.

He told The PIE that Nigerians are still keen to travel to the UK and are now looking at other ways to do so.

“The goal posts have changed,” he said. “You can stop dependant visas but there are still potentially other options to get to the UK.”

“Already we are seeing more students interested in non-UK options,” he added. “It’s going to hurt students, unis, agents, everyone who’s in the sector because Nigeria’s a large number of students and it will definitely drop the numbers, so I’m worried.”

Students and institutions are awaiting clarification from the Home Office on the details of the new rules. In a recent update, Universities UK International said it expects students on fully-funded scholarships to be exempt from the ban, meaning women from Saudi Arabia may be less affected than originally thought. 



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