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Back to square one for Tier 4 students as UK immigration staff to ‘test’ English | Immigration Matters

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As the UK Border Agency turns back the clock to restore Entry Clearance Officer’s (ECO’s) decision making powers, some are concerned that officers will not be trained to assess students’ competence as part of a campaign to bar bogus applicants, the Guardian reports.

Students who have applied for Tier 4 visas to study in the UK and who have already passed approved language tests could be barred from taking up their places at colleges or universities if immigration officers judge that their English is not good enough.

New powers granted to ECO’s and staff at visa offices around the world, which came into effect on 30 July, are intended to add a new line of defence against bogus applicants, but students could be failed by staff who are not trained language assessors.

Announcing the rule change last month, UK immigration minister Damian Green said: “With more interviews and greater powers to refuse bogus students we will weed out abuse and protect the UK from those looking to play the system.”

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) said it expects to interview 14,000 students applying for Tier 4 student visas over the next 12 months: more than 5% of the 250,000 expected applicants.

The interviews will be targeted at students from countries where risks of abuse are higher and who are applying to institutions that are not on the UKBA’s “highly trusted sponsor” list.

The agency says that its officers will ask applicants questions about their “immigration and education history, study and post-study plans, and financial circumstances”.

Interviewees must be able to “demonstrate without the assistance of an interpreter” that their English meets the level of the test certificate they have submitted. Failure to do so, and failure to attend interviews, will result in their application being rejected.

But the UKBA was not able to give details about how the interviews will be conducted and what training officers will receive to assess ability.

Mike Milanovic, chief executive of Cambridge Esol, which produces a number of the tests of English approved by the UKBA, says immigration staff will need specialist skills. “Speaking is possibly the most challenging skill to assess. Even when it is carried out by very experienced language teachers, you still need to provide them with specialist training and very detailed instructions.

“You also need an extensive quality management system to back this up. Otherwise, it’s almost impossible to deliver a fair, reliable assessment,” said Milanovic.

The UKBA recommends that staff seek advice from local British Council offices, but the council could not say whether it has been asked to provide language assessment training.

Demonstrating language ability has been a key part of the Tier 4 visa process since 2009. In 2010 the UKBA set higher minimum levels and Green stressed the importance of approved tests as evidence.

“Secure English language testing will ensure that we have independent evidence that all education institutions are ensuring their students are capable of following a course delivered in English,” Green said in 2010.

The introduction of student interviews could call into question the UKBA’s confidence in those tests.

The UKBA’s move towards full interviews and more powers for ECO’s puts students back to pre-points based square one.

More British Embassy controls are needed to combat fraud, but firing questions to student visa applicants behind a plate glass panel is not the correct way to assess a person’s ability to speak English.

Cynthia Barker of Immigration Advisers Bison Management said she had dealt with hundreds of successful appeals under the old student visa system.

‘Students refused visa because of unpredictable decisions by ECO’s were able to appeal to an independent immigration judge in the UK where refusals were often overturned.

‘When the points based system was introduce for Tier 4 student visa applications in 2010, the Home Office abolished the right of appeal against a visa refusal as it said decisions would be based on a points score rather than an ECO’s subjective judgment.’

The move will be seen by the private education industry as another nail in the coffin for for an already beleaguered sector.

Hundreds of private college have virtually given on non-EU Tier students and have either closed down or moved into recruiting EU students.

Majestic College has announced a new UK Government funded study programme for EU students – which includes Bulgarians and Romanians looking to study and work on Yellow Cards.

Courses are fully funded by the Government-backed student loan scheme, with nothing to pay until you are earning over £21,000 per annum.

Thousands of Bulgarians and Romanians have enrolled on UK courses whilst applying for a yellow card to allow work and study. However, many have struggled with fees and living costs whilst waiting up to six months for their yellow cards to be processed.

Due to long processing delays, many students have almost finished their course by the time they UK Border Agency has issued their yellow card.

Students, who need to demonstrate 12 months work and study in order to qualify for a blue residence card, have to enrol in further costly courses to make up the shortfall.

Majestic College, in association with partner providers in London, believe that the new funded courses provide the ideal solution to the ‘shortfall’ problem whilst giving Bulgarians and Romanians a chance to study for a management level qualification with no upfront fees.

Assistance offered for work placement, accommodation and Yellow Card permit BR1 paperwork.

Funding provided by Government backed student loan organisation – student repays loan after graduation once you are earning above £21000 a year.

For more information call Joanna on 0208 207 1020 or email

See also:

How to compare your qualifications with UK equivalent

New Government funded courses available for Bulgarian and Romanian EU students

New ‘educational oversight’ arrangements for Tier 4 private colleges announced by UKBA

Romanian and Bulgarian students say yellow card permit delays put degrees at risk

London Metropolitan University Tier 4 student visa licence suspended

Parliament take emergency action to save immigration system after court says it has been operating illegally since 2008

Private Tier 4 sponsoring colleges sacrificed in immigration cull

Glasgow Caledonian University gets Tier 4 sponsorship licence back within weeks of suspension

Overseas students trapped in UK visa delays

New visa rules for overseas students ‘will cost billions’ say Universities UK

UKBA confirm changes to the Immigration Rules which start on 6 April 2012

Overseas students should be excluded from UK net migration figures, say MPs

650 Tasmac students stranded as University of Wales accredited college closes

UK Universities claimed £86m for students who had dropped out

If you need any immigration advice or help with Sponsorship or Work Permits, Visa, ILR/Settlement, Citizenship, dependant visa or an appeal against a refusal please email: or visit

Majestic College offer special packages for EU students. They also have a number of employers looking for staff right now and are willing to employ Bulgarians and Romanians.

For more information call Joanna on 0208 207 1020 or email

Overseas students and workers can qualify for a tax refund 

You could qualify for a tax refund if you are an overseas student, work permit holder, Tier 1, Yellow or Blue Card holder – in fact any visa type – even if you are no longer legal or even in the UK!

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3 Responses to “Back to square one for Tier 4 students as UK immigration staff to ‘test’ English”
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  1. […] new measure announced by the UKBA, students who have applied for Tier 4 visas to study in the UK and who have already passed approved language tests coul…at colleges or universities if immigration officers judge that their English is not good […]

  2. […] Back to square one for Tier 4 students as UK immigration staff to ‘test’ English […]

  3. […] Back to square one for Tier 4 students as UK immigration staff to ‘test’ English […]

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