The UK Border Agency has announced that Tier 4, for students, due to start next March, will now be phased in with full implementation taking place in August 2009.
Students who wish to apply under the existing student visa system must act now, or prepare to meet the new criteria.
At a meeting hosted by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) in London last week, further details of Tier 4 of the Points Based System were revealed to an audience of Educational providers. The main details are:
- Tier 4 will commence at the end of March 2009
- Educational providers recruiting students from outside the EU will need to register as sponsors with the UKBA
- Sponsoring organisations will take on far greater responsibilities for policing the system
- Sponsoring colleges will continue with paper based offer letters until electronic versions, ‘Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies’ (CAS), are introduced in the Autumn of 2009 for in country students
- Full Sponsorship Management System (SMS) expected to be operational by February 2010, at which time all students will require a CAS from a sponsoring institution
- Visas will be tied to a specific educational provider
- Students applying to come to the UK will need to score at least 40 points under the new on-line system
- 30 Points will be awarded for a confirmed place or CAS form a sponsoring educational provider
- 10 points will be awarded for Maintenance and Funds Test and specific amounts of funds of around £9600 will need to be shown
- Appeal rights abolished and replaced with an ‘Administrative Review’
- No visas for courses below NVQ3
General students on courses lasting more than 12 months will be expected to show they have sufficient funds to pay for the first year of fees plus £9600 living allowance (British Council figure), plus a further £535 per month for each dependant. A slightly lower figure will be accepted for students living outside the London area.
Student taking vocational courses will have to match the ‘on the job’ training with classroom studies. Colleges will be forced to monitor the hours spent on work placement, although quite how this will be achieved in practice was not fully explained during the Q & A session.
In a recent BBC report, academics have petitioned Downing Street, “urging the government to withdraw new immigration rules for overseas students in the UK”.
Over 4500 signatures have been collected, organised by Ian Grigg-Spall, academic chair of the National Critical Lawyers Group and honorary fellow at Kent Law School.
Mr Grigg-Spall told the BBC that there had to be trust between teacher and student.
“Now if they think that we’re wearing two hats – teacher, but also a hat labelled ‘immigration officer’ – I think that’s a complete contradiction,” he said.
“That’s why I say it’s a breach of our university autonomy and why in fact it’s a breach of academic freedom.
“This is a slippery slope, this is a dangerous slope and as a human rights lawyer, I am very worried.”
Candidates will still have to obtain entry clearance or a visa from British Embassy post.
Under the current system, entry clearance refusals can be challenged on appeal and the case heard before an independent Immigration Judge at the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (AIT).
Under Tier 4 students will no longer have a right of appeal against an entry clearance refusal. The right of appeal is being replaced by an ‘administrative review’ by an Entry Clearance Manager.
The UKBA argue that because decisions under Tier 4 will be more transparent and clear cut and based only on factual information, there is no need for an appeal system. Entry Clearance Officers (ECO’s) will not, for instance, be able to refuse on ‘intention’ to study or return home after completion of the course.
Should this prove to be the case, students applying for a visa under Tier 4 could be more assured of a visa than under the current ‘hit and miss’ system.
But there will be disadvantages under the points system. For instance, visa holders will be tied to one institution and changing would require anew visa. Maintenance rules will also be tighter and those in vocational courses, such as NVQ’s, will be subject to stricter conditions and controls.
When you weigh up the pro’s and con’s of both systems, most students will feel they have a better chance of success if they apply now than they would under Tier 4.
There are also advantages for those holding the current student visa, as opposed to one issued after March 2009.
Conclusion – get moving if you want to beat the Tier 4 deadline
If prospective students want to ‘beat the points system’ they must act now. Only students applying for visas for courses starting before the end of March will be able to apply under the current system.
In other words, you need to get your applications in by January/February to obtain the visa (you must allow at least a month for the Embassy to process an application), which means you really need to start enrolling and completing the VAF and requirements this month or by early January at the latest.
VFS, which processes visa applications on behalf of the British Embassy in Manila, report that they are “inundated” with student visa applications at the moment and delays in processing are expected.
Those who can apply now will also have the advantage of a full right of appeal, where their case can be heard before an independent judge rather than an Entry Clearance Manager carrying out an Administrative Review.
Life will go on after Tier 4, but we do not know exactly how things will pan out after March. Students are worth £5 billion to the economy according to the Home Office.