Student immigration has been a hot topic over the past few months, with many controversial changes being proposed and discussed. After months of concern, it appears now that the immigration rules bring good news for some, but further restrictions for many. This article sets out clearly which of the proposed changes are going to take place and when and how these changes will affect your college.
From 7 December 2010 to 31 January 2011 the Government ran a public consultation on the reform of the Tier 4 Student Immigration System and approximately 31,000 responses were received. There was national concern that the proposed changes would put off international students coming to the UK. On 22 March 2011 the Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced the changes to be made to the student visa system in response to this consultation. A vast amount of changes were announced, but the details of these changes have only just been released.
The Home Secretary laid a Statement of Changes In Immigration Rules before Parliament on 31 March 2011. A Statement of Intent and new Tier 4 Guidance for Sponsors and Migrants were also published by the UKBA on the same day. These documents set out the detail surrounding the new changes, most of which are due to take effect on 21 April 2011.
The Home Office state that they are making these changes as part of the Government strategy for reducing abuse of the student immigration system whilst ensuring that the brightest and the best international students are able to remain in the UK. Universities UK have welcomed the announcements and have stated that ‘it was pleased that Government had responded to many of its concerns’ and that the changes ‘will allow British Universities to remain at the forefront of international student recruitment’. However the rules bring less good news for publicly funded colleges, and considerably less good news for privately funded colleges.
The major changes to the immigration rules which affect colleges and college students, are set out below.
Restrictions on permission to work
From July 2011 there will be tighter restrictions on the rights to work for new student visa applicants. These changes will not affect students with visas applied for before July 2011.
For students applying for Tier 4 visas from July 2011, the following work restrictions will apply. Students studying at a university will be able to study for 20 hours per week during term time. Students at public sector FE colleges will be able to work 10 hours per week during term time. Students at universities and at public sector FE colleges will be able to work full-time during the holidays.
From July 2011 students who make student visa applications to study at privately funded FE colleges, or language schools, will not be granted any permission to work at any time during their studies.
Currently students studying at degree level and above can study 20 hours a week during term time and students studying a course of study below degree level can work 10 hours per week during term time. It does not matter where the student is studying. All students can work full time during the holidays
The new rules will therefore hit privately funded colleges the hardest. Publically funded colleges should not be too affected from these changes.
Universities will benefit from the rule changes, whilst publically funded FE Colleges and language schools will be significantly negatively affected. These changes could see many more international students choosing to apply to study at a University, rather than a college, even though colleges are generally able to offer lower fees.
From April 2012 the amount of time some students can spend on work placements will be reduced. Students studying at a university will still be able to do work placement courses on a 50:50 basis of study/work as they can now. However, students studying at all types of colleges will only be allowed to do a minimum study to work ratio of 66:33 as opposed to the 50:50 split that they can currently do. This will significantly impact on how certain courses are organised for many colleges, and will mean that students wanting to do longer work placements may apply to study at a university instead of a college.
From Summer 2011 students applying for their initial grant of leave will only be allowed to bring dependants to the UK where they are on a course of at least 12 months and the study is at a university at postgraduate level or is government sponsored. These dependants will be able to work.
This new rule should not affect those students already in the UK with dependents – but will affect new college applicants. This new rule will mean that students who wish to bring dependents to the UK will now be required to study at a university at post graduate level rather than a college, or to be in receipt of government sponsorship.
Interim limits and applying for a HTS
From April 2012 all education institutions will need to be a Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) in order to continue to be able to sponsor students. New sponsors will only be admitted to the register if they meet the new accreditation requirements which will be put into place from 21 April 2011.
The Government is introducing an interim limit, from 21 April 2011 to 5 April 2012, on the number of Certificate of Acceptance of Studies (CAS) that can be issued by sponsors who are not both HTS and subject to the public system of inspection, audit and review. This change will mainly affect privately funded FE colleges who will need to apply for HTS status and in some cases accreditation, as soon as possible. Some will already be HTS so will not be as affected. However, these higher requirements could see the closure of some privately funded FE colleges.
In contrast, universities are all automatically Highly Trusted Sponsors and therefore this change will not be an additional burden. Universities will be allowed to issue a CAS from the university’s own allocation to a student studying at a sponsor who is subject to the interim limit, such as a pathway provider.
English language requirement
From 21 April 2011, students applying for a visa to study at degree level or above will be required to prove that they are proficient in English language at upper intermediate level, which is Level B2 on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). Students applying to study below degree level will be required to be proficient in English Language at CEFR level B1. Whilst universities will be able to decide how they wish to undertake the assessment of prospective students’ English language, students at all types of colleges will need to provide a Secure English language test certificate from an approved test provider.
This is another example of where universities have been protected by the new immigration rules whilst tighter restrictions have been placed on colleges.
An additional rule will also be introduced on 21 April 2011, whereby UKBA staff will be able to refuse entry to students who cannot speak English without an interpreter. This brings back an element of discretion at the port of entry. Refusals will require confirmation from a senior officer.
Streamlining the application process for low risk students
From July 2011 students of designated low risk nationalities who are attending courses at Highly Trusted Sponsors (HTS) will not routinely need to provide the specified evidence for funds or qualifications (for example bank statements and qualification certificates). For colleges who have already achieved HTS, this is a positive change, as the new rules will make the application process far easier for these ‘low risk’ students. Colleges which are not currently HTS, are advised to apply for this status as soon as possible.
These low risk students will only be required to provide the CAS and a passport/identity document at the time of the application. This will apply for in-country applications and out of country applications where the application is made in the home country. The students must be able to provide the appropriate documents if subsequently requested.
The following list of countries are designated low risk:
- British National Overseas
- Hong Kong
- New Zealand
- South Korea
- Trinidad and Tobago
- United States of America
Courses which are not a “step up”
From July 2011 sponsors will be required to vouch for academic progression for students applying to change courses where the new course is not a step up the usual qualification scale. This seems a sensible change.
List of unsuitable financial institutions
From July 2011 tighter requirements will be introduced on how students can prove financial means. The UKBA will produce a list of financial institutions which students will be unable to use in order to prove required funds. For students from some countries this could have a significant impact and there may be difficulties with students being required to move their funds into a different financial institution. Where there are tight timescales this will not always be possible.
A new fee is being introduced for students who wish to change sponsors. This will be a charge of £160.
Tier 1 (PSW)
The Tier 1 Post-Study Work (PSW) route will be closed from April 2012. The PSW route allows UK degree graduates to remain in the UK for a further 2 years after completing their studies to work, or not work, as they wish. It is proposed that graduates who wish to stay in the UK after April 2012 will need to make leave to remain applications under Tier 2. In order to qualify under the Tier 2 route the graduates will need a graduate level job offer from an employer with a Tier 2 licence who is willing to sponsor them.
This is one of the most controversial changes to be introduced as many believe that the closure of the PSW route will put off international students coming to study in the UK. Many international students already in the UK have expressed concern and anxiety regarding the closure of the PSW route. However Universities UK believe that the availability of the Tier 2 route is critically important in attracting international students to the UK. The Tier 2 route is considerably harder to apply for, and tighter restrictions will apply to those graduates on this Tier, so only time will tell how these changes will affect applications from international students.
The new rules are likely to hit private FE colleges and language schools particularly hard whilst bringing relatively good news for publicly funded colleges and universities. The closure of the PSW route and the general tightening of the requirements could mean that less international students apply to study in the UK. The new rules will probably also mean that many more students choose to apply to study at a university as opposed to a private FE college or language school because it will be easier to apply for the visa, they will be able to work and in some cases, they can bring dependents.
Gareth Edwards and Claire Wilkins both work within the Immigration team at Veale Wasbrough Vizards and advise on all aspects of immigration
They can be contacted on:
Gareth Edwards, Partner, 0117 314 5220 [email protected]
Claire Wilkins, Solicitor, 0117 314 5274 [email protected]