Immigration Minister Damian Green has announced a new public consultation of the reform of the student visa system today and promised ‘tougher entrance criteria, limits on work and an end to students staying in the UK to look for a job’.
The changes, which appear to have been decided prior to the consultation, are proposed as part of a major ‘shake-up’ of the student visa system, which could see the end of the popular Tier 1 Post Study Work Visa. The post study route was designed to ensure that graduates have the option to stay in the UK and pass on the benefits of their British education to the country.
Similar schemes are available to overseas students studying in competitor countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
Launching the public consultation on the reform of the student entry route to the UK of the points-based system today, the Home Office said that ‘41 per cent of students coming to the UK on a student visa were studying below degree level courses’.
Immigration Minister Damian Green said:
‘I believe attracting talented students from abroad is vital to the UK but we must be more selective about who can come here and how long they can stay.
‘People imagine students to be those who come here for a few years to study at university and then go home – that is not always the case. Too many students coming to study at below degree level have been coming here to live and work, rather than studying. We need to stop this abuse.
‘Today’s proposals follow a major review of the system, and are aimed at a more selective system and, crucially, reducing the numbers to meet our target of reducing net migration to sustainable levels.’
The public consultation will run for 8 weeks, and will be seeking views on a ‘range of measures to reduce the number of students that can come into the UK’.
Government proposals include:
- reducing the number of people coming to the UK to study at below degree level;
- introducing a tougher English language requirement;
- ensuring students wishing to extend their studies show evidence of academic progression;
- limiting students’ entitlements to work and their ability to bring in dependants; and
- improving the accreditation process for education providers, alongside more rigorous inspections.
The press release stressed that the UK Government is ‘committed to making changes across the immigration system to achieve its overall aim of reducing net migration, in addition to the introduction of an annual limit on workers from outside the EU’.
The Government say that students account for ‘two thirds of migrants entering the UK’ each year which is why it is a key focus for reform.
But many would argue that students are not migrants in the same sense as those who come on long term work permits or to join partners as dependants.
Damian Green added:
‘This Government wants high calibre students with the genuine desire to study to come to our country to come for temporary periods, and then return home. We want to hear views of our proposals from a wide range of people so that our reforms meet this objective.’
The new proposals could see Tier 4 students coming to the UK under the points-based system being restricted to those studying largely degree level courses and to child students, unless the institution is a Highly Trusted Sponsor.
Students will be required to pass a slightly higher level English language competence test, which could become the key indicator of someone’s eligibility to complete a higher level course. Tier 4 applicants will have to pass a secure English language test showing competence at intermediary level B2, instead of the current B1 benchmark.
The newly emphasised ‘drive to ensure students return overseas after their course finishes’ will mean students may be required to leave the UK and apply for a new visa to further their studies, as well as demonstrate evidence of progression to a higher level course.
The Government also announced plans to improve the inspection and accreditation of the education sector, to ‘ensure the courses offered by private institutions are of the highest quality’.
James Pitman, the managing director of Study Group recently pointed out in the Financial Times, that any reduction in student numbers would be ‘disastrous for the UK’s fragile economy’ given that education and training exports are worth almost 40 Billion – representing the second biggest contributor to the UK’s net balance of payments behind financial Services.
A number of universities have real concerns about the impact of the work based cap. Professor Steve Smith, president of vice-chancellors’ umbrella group, Universities UK, and vice-chancellor of Exeter University recently noted in the Guardian that the cap:
‘..could be a serious blow to the UK market in the face of huge competition from other countries that are investing in higher education… with the investment that competitor countries such as the US and China are putting into universities makes them more likely to poach staff at British universities. All of which amounts to a serious worry.’
With foreign students also accounting for as much as 30% of the revenue of some universities, at a time when they are being hit with public expenditure cuts of 40 % and now the end of the Tier 1 Post Study visa, many more vice-chancellors will aksing if the UK can afford to go down this road.
Clearly, the majority of the Government’s reforms are aimed at lower level studies and private Colleges, however, plans to end the Tier 1 Post Study route will be bad news for Universities, which also benefit from foreign students who begin their UK studies at private colleges and language schools.
You can download the consultation from the UK Border Agency website.
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: