The UK Government this week announced the ‘go-live’ date for Tier 4, for students, of the Australian style points-based system.
The five tier points system, which is being phased in over an eighteen month period starting in 2008, has been described by Immigration Minister Phil Woolas as the biggest change in immigration for 50 years.
The Work Permit system was replaced by Tier 2 in November and many employers in the care sector are still getting to grips with the new process. Large numbers of employers have not yet even registered as sponsors under Tier 2, leaving their Work Permit holding nursing and senior care staff at risk of being unable to renew their permits and leave to remain.
From 31st March, non-EU students looking to study in the UK will apply for their visas on line under the new rules.
International students must gain sufficient points by demonstrating that they have been accepted onto a course run by a UK Border Agency (UKBA) licensed education institution, and prove that they have the means to support themselves during their studies.
Students are already supplying their biometric details at local visa application centres as part of the visa process, as are UK based overseas students renewing their visas and applying for their required ID Cards.
International students are allowed to work part-time for up to 20 hours per week during term time, full time work during the holidays, as well as any course related work placements, which must be strictly monitored by the sponsoring educational provider.
A UKBA spokesperson said:
“Thousands of international students choose to study in the UK every year. These changes to the visa application system will allow students to check whether they are eligible for a visa before they even apply, making the whole system more straightforward.
“We would urge anyone considering studying in the UK to visit the UKBA website now to familiarise themselves with the new regulations and ensure their application can be processed as quickly as possible.”
For the first time, all independent fee-paying schools, colleges and universities recruiting international students now need a licence, which replaces the DIUS Register, to do so.
The Government hopes the new licensing regime will help crack down on bogus and unfit colleges, as well as tightening the monitoring of students by forcing colleges to report absentee visa holders to the UK Border Agency.
According to Government figures, over a thousand UK institutions have signed up to sponsor international students, but hundreds more are in the pipeline awaiting approval or accreditation and will not be licensed when the new system goes live in just over two weeks.
British Embassies in major postings such as India and the Philippines are also struggling to meet the massive increase in the numbers of students applying for visas before Tier 4 kicks in.
In Manila last month the British Embassy’s visa handling partner, VFS Global, placed a restriction on the number of students applying for NVQ or vocational courses because it was unable to cope with the increased demand for student visas.
The company, which is part of the Zurich based Kuoni group, holds a multi-million pound contract to handle the initial processing of visa applications and biometrics at a number British Embassies in India and other Asian countries.
Vocational course student applicants in the Philippines attempting to submit documents via VFS Global are still experiencing severe problems and are, unlike other visa categories, being dealt with by “appointment only”. However, appointments are restricted to just ten per day and applicants calling daily for coveted appointment slots are told by VFS staff to “call back tomorrow”.
Under immigration rule 34, Embassies are supposed to allow the submission of visa applications by registered post. In these cases the visa application (VAF) has, it could be argued, already been submitted through the on-line process by the candidates.
UK visa teams have been given very little time to adjust to the introduction of Tier’s 2 and 5 in November and questions have to be asked as to whether Entry Clearance Officers and their partners are ready to take on this huge change.
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