Here’s an Immigration Problem that the UK Has, and the U.S. Does Not: Too Many Dependents of Foreign Students

By David North on May 30, 2023

The U.S. seems to have any number of migration policy problems, but we should be pleased that there is one such problem that is bothering the British, but that has not surfaced, at least not yet, in the States. That is the number of dependents of foreign college students present in the nation.

As background, bearing in mind that our population is roughly five times as high as that of the United Kingdom — why did the Brits in 2022 issue 135,000 student dependent visas when the U.S. issued only some 26,000 of them?

When the ratios are compared, the Brit visa issuance rate is 25 times that of the U.S. (their population is a fifth of ours, but their issue rate is five times ours). I have not seen this comparison in writing, but have read recently of the British concern with that population in the New York Times and in a BBC article.

The numbers I have cited are from BBC, for the Brits, and for us, from a State Department publication, “Worldwide NIV Workload by Visa Category FY 2022". NIV means nonimmigrant visa.

The U.S. foreign student visa is designated as F-1, while the dependents of foreign students receive F-2 visas.

Cross-national comparisons are fraught with problems: Definitions vary, statistics are often not comparable, and there are often things in the backgrounds of the two countries that differ. There may well be different welfare and employment rules that help explain the difference, for instance, but one thing is clear: Our visa issuance officers overseas have a dim view of F-2 applicants and routinely turn down a higher proportion of F-2 applications than in any of the other 62 major categories of visas. (By major categories, I mean those with more than 50 applicants a year.)

In second place in terms of the percentage of visa rejections is the F-1 for foreign students. In FY 2022 there were these rejection rates:

  • F-2: 44.6 percent
  • F-1: 34.9 percent
  • All NIV visas: 15.7 percent

So the State Department was rejecting F-2 applications at three times the rate it was using for all nonimmigrant visas, and, as the following numbers show, it has been doing so more enthusiastically as the years have passed; rejection rates for recent years are: FY 2019, 29.6 percent; FY 2020, 32.8 percent, FY 2021, 32.3 percent, and FY 2022, 44.6 percent. These figures do not show a Trump tough-on migration vs. a Biden easy-on-migration pattern.

American rules on F-2s are relatively stringent. F-2s cannot work while in that status, while their F-1 spouses can via the Optional Practical Training program. Prior to Covid, I know that most assistance programs were denied to them, except for WIC (Women, Infants and Children), the food program for pregnant and nursing mothers which is open to everyone, even illegal aliens — after all the infant is a miniature U.S. citizen.

The definition of a student dependent is about the same in both countries, but the UK specifically includes the non-married partner of the student, as ours does not. That may explain a small part of the huge difference.

The British government has issued new rules on who may be admitted as a student kin, and who may not. According to the Times: “Under the new measure, only post-graduate research students [PhD students?] will be entitled to visas for dependents, ending a system under which others, such as those on master’s courses, were allowed them too.”

The U.S. allows spouses and children of all F-1s to have these visas. The new UK rules will also prevent active students from working; the U.S. not only has no such restriction, it pays a subsidy of about 8 percent to employers who hire student-workers in the OPT program, by excusing them from the usual payroll taxes.

Why the UK has so many more foreign student dependents than the U.S. remains a mystery to me.