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19th Jun 2024

Home Office data confirms downturn in UK visa issuances through Q1 2024

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • The UK reports a 6% drop in the number of study visas issued for the year ending March 2024
  • The decline appears tied to a new policy preventing most students from bringing accompanying dependants to the UK during their studies
  • That initial decline for Q1 could foreshadow a more significant trend for the year ahead as visa application volumes are also down substantially through the first quarter of this year

A 13 June data release from the UK Home Office confirms a decrease in student visa issuances for the 12 months ending March 2024.

Visa issuances to main applicants (as opposed to dependants) declined by just over 6% year-over-year and 10% compared to the historical peak from June 2023. The Home Office explains that, "Following a fall in numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of visas issued have subsequently increased sharply, reaching a peak of 498,626 in the year ending June 2023. The number of visas issued in the latest year are slightly lower than the peak, at 446,924."

The decline appears to be strongly related to the January 2024 rule change that now prevents international students from bringing dependants with them during their studies in the UK, unless they are enrolled in postgraduate programmes with a research focus.

However, the relatively modest dip in visa issuances through March may foreshadow a more significant trend. As the Home Office earlier reported, there was a 44% decrease in study visa applications in the first three months of 2024, compared to the same period last year.

The downturn reported this year follows a period of considerable growth in visa volumes from 2016 on. That growth was closely tracked by a corresponding increase in the number of visas extended to accompanying dependants. The Home Office notes that, "In the year ending March 2024 there were 111,481 visas issued to student dependants, 25% fewer compared to the previous year but almost 7 times higher than in 2019…The number of dependants has grown at a faster rate than main applicants in recent years. The numbers peaked in the year ending March 2023 with around 3 dependants for every 10 main applicants. However, the number of main applicants and dependants have since fallen with dependants decreasing at a faster rate in the first quarter (January to March) of 2024. In the year ending March 2024, one-fifth (20%) of sponsored study visas were issued to dependants."

We see that drop in dependant visas (in concert with the decrease in visas for main applicants) illustrated in the chart below.

Sponsored study visas granted by applicant type, between the year ending March 2011 and the year ending March 2024. Source: UK Home Office

As we have reported previously, much of that growth – and the more recent decline in study visas issued – can be traced to two key sending markets: India and Nigeria. The number of study visas issued to main applicants from India and Nigeria through March 2024 fell by 16% and 38% respectively, compared to the same period last year.

Sponsored study visas granted to the top 5 nationalities (main applicants), between the year ending March 2019 and the year ending March 2024. Source: UK Home Office

A significant majority of study visas for the UK are issued for graduate studies (66% of main applicants for the year ending March 2024), with another 25% issued for those enrolled in undergraduate programmes.

Student visas granted to main applicants by course level, between the year ending March 2019 and the year ending March 2024. Source: UK Home Office

For additional background, please see:

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