Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia, London-based Indian entrepreneur and founder of Euro Car Parts, has today warned Rishi Sunak against any potential plans to curb foreign students and their families entering the UK because it will limit the talent available to British businesses.
The intervention comes amid reports that Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman, the home secretary, are increasingly concerned about the number of families joining foreign students in the UK while they study. New immigration data revealed that the number of dependants (spouses and children) accompanying students in the UK rose from 16,047 in 2019 to 135,788 in 2022 – an eight-fold increase compared to only a 50% increase in the number of foreign student visas approved over the same time period.
The Government’s potential plans include restricting the number of visas for relatives of students who study degrees ‘least beneficial to the economy’, limiting the number of dependants allowed, and only allowing dependants of postgraduate students into the UK, with a preference given to PhD students – strategies which Ahluwalia argues will be detrimental to British businesses.
Ahluwalia argues that the plans will lock international mature students out of UK universities if they have spouses or children, regardless of their economic value and skillset, as many students decide not to study in the UK if it requires separating from their family. He asserts that this will have a major knock-on effect on British businesses that are already facing skills shortages, and damage the UK economy in the long term.
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia came to the UK as a refugee from Uganda in the 1970s, later founding Euro Car Parts at 18 years old. He grew the company from one store in Willesden to over 300 stores, becoming Europe’s biggest distributor in the industry and employing over 12,000 people.
The plans have also been criticised by universities and MPs of all parties, citing research published by Universities UK International (UUKi) and the Higher Education Institute (HEPI) in 2021. The research found that international students bring a net economic benefit of £25.9bn per year across the UK, which is predicted to rise to £35bn per year by 2030.
UUKi is an advocacy organisation which aims to give a collective voice to UK universities, helping them flourish on the international stage. Their work includes influencing policy and facilitating relationships between UK and international institutions. HEPI is the UK’s only independent think tank dedicated to higher education, which shapes policy through its research.
Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia, founder of Euro Car Parts, said: “The Government’s plans to restrict dependents of students entering the country is a short-sighted and unfair attempt to force down immigration numbers.
“Restricting students from bringing their family to the UK will discourage predominantly highly skilled, motivated, and intelligent mature students from choosing British universities, and will instead push them towards countries which are more welcoming to their families. It signals to the rest of the world that the UK is closed for business.
“As someone who arrived in this country as a refugee, I know how eager these students are to make a success of themselves in the UK, and contribute to our economy. The new rules will limit British businesses’ access to skilled workers, which will only exacerbate the existing skills shortages across numerous industries. The economic value of these students is huge, and must be properly considered.
“Beyond the economic impact, the vibrant mix of cultures is a huge part of what makes the UK so special, and is apparent throughout academia, the arts, fashion, and food. Immigrants make huge contributions to the country, and that must not be discounted.”