Tougher entrance criteria, limits on work entitlements and the closure of the post-study work route are among the changes to the student visa system announced today by Home Secretary Theresa May.
The announcement follows a major public consultation on reforming Tier 4 of the points-based system, after a Home Office review revealed widespread abuse. A sample of Tier 4 students studying at private institutions revealed that 26 per cent of them could not be accounted for.
The main changes are as follows:
- From April 2012, any institution wanting to sponsor students will need to be classed as a Highly Trusted sponsor, and will need to become accredited by a statutory education inspection body by the end of 2012. The current system does not require this, and has allowed too many poor-quality colleges to become sponsors.
- Students coming to study at degree level will need to speak English at an ‘upper intermediate’ (B2) level, rather than the current ‘lower intermediate’ (B1) requirement.
- UK Border Agency staff will be able to refuse entry to students who cannot speak English without an interpreter, and who therefore clearly do not meet the minimum standard.
- Students at universities and publicly funded further education colleges will retain their current work rights, but all other students will have no right to work. We will place restrictions on work placements in courses outside universities.
- Only postgraduate students at universities and government-sponsored students will be able to bring their dependants. At the moment, all students on longer courses can bring their dependants.
- We will limit the overall time that can be spent on a student visa to 3 years at lower levels (as it is now) and 5 years at higher levels. At present, there is no time limit for study at or above degree level.
- We will close the Tier 1 (Post-study work) route, which allows students 2 years to seek employment after their course ends. Only graduates who have an offer of a skilled job from a sponsoring employer under Tier 2 of the points-based system will be able to stay to work.
The government has also pledged to develop a new entrepreneur route for bright and innovative students who have a business idea and want to make it work in the UK.
The Home Secretary said:
‘International students not only make a vital contribution to the UK economy but they also help make our education system one of the best in the world.
‘But it has become very apparent that the old student visa regime failed to control immigration and failed to protect legitimate students from poor-quality colleges.
‘The changes I am announcing today re-focus the student route as a temporary one, available to only the brightest and best. The new system is designed to ensure students come for a limited period, to study, not work, and make a positive contribution while they are here.
‘My aim is not to stop genuine students coming here – it is to eliminate abuse within the system. Our stricter accreditation process will see only first-class education providers given licences to sponsor students.
‘I am delighted to announce that, alongside our stricter rules, we will ensure that innovative student entrepreneurs who are creating wealth are able to stay in the UK to pursue their ideas.’
The government has committed to reforming all routes of entry to the UK in order to bring immigration levels under control. The student changes will work alongside the annual limit on economic migration, and reforms to family and settlement routes planned for later this year.