“…the British High Commissioner was busy encouraging Nigerians to go to the UK for studies, boasting that virtually every Nigerian who applied for a study visa got it. … The UK is a nice place to live but educated and skilled Nigerians should now ask themselves if they could get better value elsewhere”.
The UK government has made further changes to its immigration policy, aiming to significantly reduce the number of legal immigrants entering the country annually. The new changes, announced earlier this week, are in addition to changes made in June. Among other things, the government is increasing the minimum salary for a skilled worker migrant visa from £26,200 to £38,700, making it more difficult for migrants to get jobs that could sponsor their visas.
While health and social care visas are exempt from the increased salary minimum, as the UK society relies heavily on poorly paid foreign health and social care workers, the government nonetheless is restricting care workers from sponsoring their spouses and children to live with them in the UK.
Also Read: Nigerians and the new UK student visa policy
The government claims that the policy change is aimed at significantly reducing legal immigration. Last year, 1.2 million people migrated to the UK while 508,000 people emigrated from the country, leaving a net migration of 672,000, the highest in history according to media reports. Since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union (EU) in 2016, the conservative government in charge has focused its energy on attracting migrants from outside the EU to replace the EU workers they envisaged the country would lose.
Take Nigeria for example, from 2020 to 2022, the British High Commissioner was busy encouraging Nigerians to go to the UK for studies, boasting that virtually every Nigerian who applied for a study visa got it. The campaign was successful and many people from Nigeria and other commonwealth countries moved to the UK via study and work visas. Today, this same study visa is among the migration routes the government is restricting.
Why is the UK Suddenly Changing its Visa Policy?
So why the change of heart? As the UK inches closer to its next election in a year, the conservatives who are poised to lose the election are now willing to throw the same migrants they encouraged to move to the UK under the bus to gain themselves a few more rightwing votes. The new changes they made this week also followed the increase in visa application fees that was announced in August 2023. Only God knows what they will come up with next.
But what does all this mean for Nigerians who are planning to migrate?
For one, the UK has become pretty expensive to move to, especially for a family. By February 2024, a family of four moving to the UK would now require roughly £21,000 in visa application fees and health surcharge for a five-year work visa. I do not know of any other country that demands this much money for the privilege of working and living in their country. There is also a future payment of £11,552 which the family will pay at the end of their five-year visa to get a permanent stay in the UK. The UK is a nice place to live but educated and skilled Nigerians should now ask themselves if they could get better value elsewhere.
The study visa route is over. This route was the preferred route for many Nigerians who moved to the UK in the last few years. Getting a postgraduate admission in the UK is pretty easy for people with Nigerian degrees and getting a UK study visa was equally easy. With the re-introduction of a two-year post-study work visa in 2020, going to the UK for a master’s became attractive again as people are assured of the opportunity to work for two years to recoup their investment.
The two years were also used by many to find jobs that could sponsor them to stay in the UK. Now, the UK government is stopping graduate students from bringing dependants to the UK. For many, the only way to fund their very expensive UK master’s and living costs is to have their spouse around. The spouse was allowed to work full-time while the student could only work 20 hours a week. Now, that option is gone for most students. The government has also threatened to review the post-study visa and they will likely scrap it as they did in 2012. This means that the study visa route is pretty over for Nigerians, single or married.
There is also the cost of instability and a hostile attitude by your host government. Stability is key when you are rebuilding your life in a new country. An unstable migration policy also makes it difficult for migrants to plan for their visa renewal as costs and criteria constantly change. Migrants also want to feel welcome in their new country. The conservatives are threatening these two ingredients as they embark on their anti-immigration policy while also engaging in anti-migrant rhetoric. Senior officials of the government are openly blaming migrants for taking away jobs from British citizens, a senseless argument that ignores the incredible hurdle migrants have to clear to land a job in the UK.
All in all, Nigerians interested in moving to the UK need to consider all these as they make their decision. Migration is an expensive endeavour, financially and emotionally, and if one has an option, it is best to go where one is welcome and feels welcome. For Nigerians who are already in the UK, the next election in the UK is an important opportunity to make the Conservatives pay for their cynical scapegoating of migrants for their mishandling of the UK economy. Go out and vote.