The UK Border Agency (UKBA) has taken ‘tough new enforcement action’ to stop ‘abuse’ of the student visa system by effectively preventing over 450 education providers from sponsoring new international students.
The agency said that as many as 11,000 students could have been brought into the UK to study each year by the colleges which have now had their Tier 4 licences suspended, revoked or are not applying for Highly Trusted Sponsor status.
The UKBA said:
‘Over 400 colleges have lost their right to recruit international students after they failed to sign up for the new inspection system.
‘As well as cutting abuse, the new standards will help ensure that genuine international students receive the highest quality education.’
UKBA targeted investigations into more than 100 colleges has led to 51 having their Tier 4 sponsor licences revoked. The investigation followed a spike in applications from South Asia just before the English language requirement rules were tightened. More than 4,500 of these applications to study have been refused or withdrawn as a result, the agency said.
One college advertised classes even though the website said it was ‘shut for maintenance’, while another could not even produce a list of students enrolled or a timetable of classes. On inspection, others could not produce any records of student attendance, or evidence of checking student qualifications.
Immigration Minister, Damian Green said:
‘Widespread abuse of the student visa system has gone on for too long and the changes we have made are beginning to bite.
‘Too many institutions were offering international students an immigration service rather than an education and too many students have come to the UK with the aim of getting work and bringing over family members. Only first-class education providers should be given licences to sponsor international students.
‘We have curbed the opportunities to work during study and bring in family members. We have also introduced new language requirements to ensure we only attract genuine students whose primary motivation is to study.’
As well as going through tough new inspections, colleges that want to keep bringing in international students must also meet new higher sponsorship standards to ensure they are fulfilling their immigration responsibilities. Those who do not meet these standards will be removed from the sponsorship register.
The UK Border Agency has also created a list of more than 2,000 blacklisted banks and financial institutions who can no longer provide evidence to verify a student has sufficient funds for their course. If a bank is on the list, a student citing that institution will not be granted a visa.
More student visa restrictions on way
Further measures to tighten the student regime, and some would argue drive students away from UK Universities, are due in April. The post study work route, which has allowed graduates a chance to work in the UK after completing their degree, will be closed.
UK University applications for 2012 are running at 9% below last year’s level, according to the UCAS admissions service. When overseas applications are taken out, the figures show a 12% drop in applications from UK students.
UK Universities (UKUS), the free student placement service are seeing a sharp downturn in applications from international students and overseas agents, who are choosing to study in other countries such as Australia, NZ and Canada.
Students wishing to stay and work in the UK will need to apply under the skilled workers Tier 2 working visa route.
The UKBA also announced that there will also be new time limits on student visas and tougher rules on work placements.
Many private college owners have decided that ‘enough is enough’ following stringent new Tier 4 visa rules, implemented on 4 July, which basically means that any new international students studying at a private college (as opposed to a government publicly funded institution) can no longer work or sponsor dependants.
Under the new rules, students studying at government colleges and UK universities will be allowed to work and sponsor dependants putting the private sector at what college owners see as an unfair disadvantage.
The combination of new UK Border Agency ‘Highly Trusted Sponsor’ regulations introduced this year and the new Tier 4 student visa rules, has increased costs whilst destroying the market for private education providers – hence the 400 closing their doors or simply opting out of the new Highly Trusted regime.