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UK Study Visas Fell 5% In 2023—What Does This Mean For International Students?

Government statistics show sponsored study visas for main applicants fell year-on-year in 2023, the first time since 2020. Here’s what that means for the future

Thu Feb 29 2024

According to figures published today by the UK Home Office, the number of sponsored study visas awarded to main applicants fell by 5% from 2022 to 2023.

The drop represents the first decrease in international student visas in the UK since 2020, though the overall total is still significantly higher than in 2019.

What do the figures say and what does this mean for business school applicants hoping to attain study visas for the UK? Here’s our analysis.

The international study boom in the UK may be ending

The number of visas issued to main applicants (in other words, not to dependents such as spouses and children) fell from 484,140 in 2022 to 457,673 in 2023 – a 5% decrease.

This is no reason for international students to panic. The rates of rejection haven’t significantly increased. In fact, it wasn’t just the number of visas granted that dropped, but also the number of applications, which fell 3% year-on-year.

Before this, both figures had been consistently rising since 2020, constituting what many considered a “boom” in international study in the UK.

Of course, this boom couldn’t continue forever, and many may see these changes as an inevitable plateau as students’ interest cools.

However, recent changes to visa restrictions in the UK could drive down the number of international students even further.

Incoming policy changes around dependents could amplify this downward trend 

Policy changes that came into effect in January 2024 revoke the right for all except research-based postgraduate students to bring dependents with them to the UK.

It was therefore reasonable to expect applicants to rush to apply for visas before the deadline, but the figures suggest this was not the case.

On the contrary, the drop in visas was particularly pronounced between Q3 and Q4 of 2023.

A significant fall in this period is common, with the majority of the year’s visas being awarded to applicants in Q3 in time for fall enrollment. However, where in 2022, the number of visas issued dropped by 75% between Q3 and Q4, in 2023, they dropped by 83%.

This suggests that interest was cooling in international study in the UK regardless of the changes to policy; however, this may still have an effect going forward.

What can international students expect in 2024?

In 2024, we will likely see a massive drop in the number of dependents coming to the UK on sponsored study visas due to the reduced eligibility for these.

This in turn could impact the number of main applicants coming to the UK, as almost a quarter of visas were issued to dependents in 2023.

If you are planning to pursue a postgraduate business degree in the UK and you don’t have dependents you want to accompany you, this may not affect your plans.

However, if you have a spouse, children, or other dependents, this could affect your long-term planning of your studies and career in the UK.

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