English language schools, represented by English UK, have won a High Court battle over visa restrictions which they say are ‘absurd and damaging’ to their businesses.
They took the action over new regulations which say that people coming to the UK to study must have a good standard of English, even when they are coming to study English.
The restrictions were part of a raft of hurried changes to the student visa rules brought in before the General Election.
The previous Labour government said that migrants seeking low-skilled work were abusing the Tier 4 student visa system.
Foreign students coming to study are now required to have English language skills of at least GCSE level.
English UK, which represents 440 language schools, says the regulations are “disproportionate and unjustified”.
The group’s chief executive Tony Millns said:
“It’s clearly absurd requiring students to know English before they come here to study it.”
His group brought the case after new Tier 4 rules were announced on the Andrew Marr show by the former Labour Home Secretary Alan Johnson.
At the the same time The UK Border Agency also announced details of the newly launched ‘Highly Trusted Sponsor Scheme’ for education providers under Tier 4 of the points-based system.
Counsel for English UK argued in court that the Home Office should have brought the issue back to Parliament for proper debate.
Mr Justice Foskett said the fresh restrictions had been achieved through altering guidelines when there should have been a formal change to the rules, with the matter referred back to Parliament.
Mr Millns said:
“I am delighted and relieved.
“We are pleased that Mr Justice Foskett saw the merits of our case and we believe that his decision is good for the UK economy, to which the English language sector contributes about £1.5 billion in foreign earnings each year.”
Common sense prevails
He said he hoped common sense would now prevail so that students could come into the UK to study English with a lower level in the language, equivalent to having studied it for 150 to 200 hours.
The coalition government says it is reviewing English language requirements across the visa system.
It believes the student visa system could be abused by people who want to come to Britain but have no intention of studying.
A spokesman for the Home Office said:
“We are carefully considering this judgment.
“This government is committed to undertake a review into the Student Tier of the Points Based System in its entirety later this year to ensure that every student who comes to the UK is genuine.”
The main grounds for the legal challenge, accepted in full by the Judge, was that paragraph 120 (a) of Annex A of the Immigration Rules cannot lawfully bestow power on Secretary of State for the Home Department (SSHD) to introduce a substantive change through guidance notes, even where the Immigration Rule in this case specified that the minimum level will be set in the guidance notes.
Last month an appeal against the Home Office interpretation of the Points Based System succeeded in the Court of Appeal. The case is Secretary of State for the Home Department v Pankina  EWCA Civ 719.
The government said it will bring forward to the autumn other measures planned by Labour requiring many immigrants marrying UK citizens to prove they have a command of English.
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