Probably the most common questions in my mailbox relate to student visas. Students, employers and even the occasional UK Border Agency officer are confused by the raft of immigration rule changes over the last few years.
A major concern is what students should do to stay on the right side of the law when moving college or changing course. The answer to these questions largely depends on when you arrived in the UK and what type of visa you hold.
If you are here on a student visa prior to March 2009, when Tier 4 started, you retain the terms and conditions of your stay in the UK associated with the old rules, until your current permission to stay expires. Under the old rules changing your educational provider is a relatively straightforward matter of informing the UK Border Agency and does not involve reapplying for your visa. But if you extend your stay in the UK as a student, you will need to apply to us under Tier 4 of the points-based system.
If you are a Tier 4 student and arrived before October 2009 you need permission to change sponsor, but not a change of visa. However, if you applied for your visa after 5 October 2009 your visa is tied to your provider and you must make a new application for permission to stay before you start your course with a new sponsor.
Switching courses with the same provider does not require a new permission from the UK Border Agency as long as you have sufficient existing leave on your visa. The provider should inform the UK Border Agency that you have changed course.
Employers need to be aware that students who obtained their visas after 5 October 2009 and later changed sponsor without obtaining a new visa are no longer legally in the UK, which means they could be hit with a £5000 for employing them. In addition, some students arriving after March 2010 may have permission to work just 10 hours a week. To clarify, that’s 10 hours per week, not 10 hours a day!
The rules are a minefield, so if in doubt seek professional advice from an OISC registered immigration adviser.
Finally, if you are in the UK on either of the above student visas, you must be engaged in full time study. Your student visa is not valid if you are not studying and following the rules.
Cynthia Barker is a UK based qualified Immigration Adviser with Bison UK, and writes for Planet Philippines.
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