Overview of the 63% Growth in Student Visas; What They Mean for International Higher Education in the UK


Key Takeaways:


  • Recent data from the UK Home Office indicate that for the whole of Calendar Year 2022, the UK has issued a total of 485,758 sponsored study visas to primary applicants.
  • China, India, and Nigeria contributed the largest to the growth of international student numbers in the UK.
  • 64% of British citizens disagree with the government’s proposal to limit the number of international students studying in the country, and instead think the current number should be increased or kept constant.

The United Kingdom has long been known as one of the world’s leading destinations for international students seeking higher education. In the academic year of 2021/22, the country has seen a remarkable increase of 12.4% in foreign enrollment, with 679,970 international students attending UK universities.

Aside from the notable growth in international education enrollments, the Home Office also pointed out that the surge in visa grants through 2022 is more impressive.

The Latest UK Visa Numbers

The Home Office recently released a report stating that they have granted a total of 485,758 sponsored study visas to main applicants for the full calendar year 2022. This number represents a significant increase of 81% above pre-COVID levels, which is an indication that the UK is once again becoming a popular destination for international students.

According to recent data released by the Home Office, there has been a significant increase in demand for sponsored study visas in the UK over the past year, with a 63% increase in visas granted for the year ending June 2022 (405,779) compared to the previous year (249,645). This rise in visa numbers is more pronounced than in previous years and is likely due to a combination of factors, including the effects of the pandemic and the steady growth of foreign enrollments in the higher education sector.

Moreover, the Home Office data shows that just over nine in ten visa grants for 2022 were for students admitted to higher education in the UK.

Emerging Key Players in the UK


It is interesting to note that there has been a shift in the mix of growth markets for study visa grants in the UK in 2022.

According to the Home Office, there were 139,539 sponsored study visa grants to Indian nationals in 2022, which marks a staggering 307% increase from 2019, when only 34,261 grants were made.

Meanwhile, China remains one of the top sources of international students for the UK despite a decrease in the numbers. In 2022, Chinese nationals were granted the second-highest number of sponsored study visas, with 102,842 grants; a 14% decrease from 2019 when 119,231 grants were made.

The data also highlights that Chinese and Indian nationals together comprise half (50%) of all sponsored study grants.

In addition to Indian and Chinese students, the data shows that Bangladeshi nationals saw the largest percentage increase in grants, rising from 1,745 in 2019 to 15,277 in 2022.

Similarly, Nigerian nationals also saw a significant increase in sponsored study visa grants, rising from 6,798 in 2019 to 59,053 in 2022. This suggests that the UK is becoming a popular destination for students from African countries as well.

The Visa Surge Despite Proposed Restrictions

The proposal to cap international student numbers in the UK is a complex issue with potential consequences that could impact the country’s higher education sector and its economy. However, it is interesting to see that despite the current concern regarding reducing migration figures, there has been a surge in visa grants to students.

This can be one of the good reasons for the Home Secretary to weigh in and consider things before finalizing decisions.

Supporting this, the latest poll by Universities UK has found that 64%, or the vast majority of the UK public, opposes the cap on international students and believes that the number of international students in the UK should only increase or at least remain the same.

For one, the majority of the public may hold this view because international students bring a significant amount of revenue to UK universities, which can help support research and academic programs. Additionally, international students often bring diverse perspectives and experiences to the classroom, which can enhance the learning environment for all students.

“International students make a huge positive contribution to our universities and to the UK economy… It is vital that the government does not introduce policies that create lasting damage to the UK’s global reputation and competitiveness, and to local economies up and down the country,” shared Universities UK International Director Jamie Arrowsmith.

Aside from the international education community, it is not surprising that multiple government departments, including the Treasury, the Department for International Trade, and the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, have expressed concerns over the Home Office’s plan to reduce the time allowed under the graduate visa route. Seeing that the potential economic impact of such a move is significant, any policy changes must be carefully considered and thoroughly evaluated before implementation.


The UK has always been known for providing high-quality education, with its universities consistently ranking among the world’s best. And today, South Asian students make up a sizable portion of the international student body at UK institutions. The increasing number of sponsored study visa grants to Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi nationals could be seen as an opportunity for UK universities to strengthen their partnerships with institutions in these countries and to develop research collaborations that benefit both countries.

It’s also important to ensure that any changes to the graduate visa route do not harm the UK’s competitiveness or reputation as a destination for talented international students. Instead, it is equally important to ensure that these students are supported and integrated into UK universities and society to maximize the benefits of their presence. (SUNEETHA QURESHI)

MSM VP Global - Suneetha Qureshi

MSM President

Suneetha has worked for 15 years in the international education sector and 25 years overall for her work for other industries. As president of MSM, she fortifies its business development outreach globally, particularly in the face of MSM’s foray into edtech-based recruitment via MSM Unify. She preserves the premium, value-adding services provided to each MSM partner institute, including dedicated teams on the ground, agent management, lead generation and inquiry management, application prescreening, and student and parent support through pioneering pre-departure briefing sessions.

She has an impeccable track record of successfully launching the representative offices in Asia and Africa of many North American and European higher education institutions. Her key strengths include hiring, training, and developing teams as evidenced by the successful results of the dedicated in-country college and university client teams.

Suneetha also has taken the lead in developing several initiatives at MSM, including building robust standard operating procedures, the Rise ‘n Shine team engagement platform, and the organization’s data analytics and audit segments.



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