Tag Archives: student visas

Tighter Control on Student Visas Costs Colleges £10 million

The UK Further Education industry warns Government that enough is enough, we’re at breaking point.

Following the tightening of the UK student visa system, government research has found that education providers in the UK have lost over £10 million of income in a single year, through tightening of recruiting international students migrants.

The survey, commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, found that the number of non-EU students fell from 13,333 in 2010 – 11 to 10,601 in 2011 – 12, a drop of 2,732 or to put it more alarmingly, 20%. The drop was observed across Further Education providers and the drop in tuition fee income was sizeable: down from £52.6 million to £41.6 million.

The drop in numbers of students choosing the UK has come about following tougher restrictions imposed by the Home Office. Students’ right to work was heavily curtailed, allowing some students only 10 hours’ work per week. Students are also prevented from remaining the UK for study for more than three years. Students who study at Higher Education providers – universities – are not subject to the same restrictions.

Further, students who choose to study with an independent further education college are required to take a secure English language test. Prospective university students can be tested by the their university, or indeed have the English language requirement completely waived.

Some colleges have been hit harder than others, researchers found. Student numbers at Grimsby Insitite have fallen from 105 in 2010 to just seven – yes 7 – in 2012. This is had the college to closing one of its student residences, saying “we just haven’t got the students.” This drop in students has cost the college more than £1 million in income.

Even award winning colleges are not free from these pressures. Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College – who won a Queen’s Award for Enterprise – saw student numbers fall from 1,300 in 2010 to just 870 in 2012. International student recruitment provides 12% of the college’s income, a not insignificant amount.

“The government just doesn’t seem to get that it’s a massive decrease in the local economy,” said Rachel Gurney, international contract manager at the college.

The Home Office is continually reminding us of its strategy to reduce net migration levels whilst still welcome “the brightest and the best” students to the UK. Then-Immigration Minister Damian Green said in 2012: “It is vital that we continue to attract the brightest and the best international students but we have to be more selective about who can come here and how long they can stay.”

However, it seems that the UK’s Coalition Government just doesn’t want to listen. Ministers have repeatedly rejected calls by Members of Parliament and other industry groups to remove international student migrants from net migration figures, on the basis that the vast majority of students leave the UK once their studies are complete.

Staff have also been made redundant because of the loss of income to colleges. The requirement for potential language students to already have English language proficiency before they come to the UK, has seen colleges close language courses entirely. Chichester College just could not afford to continue offering English as a Foreign Language courses and had no choice but to make five staff members redundant.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills study found an alarming response to the problems faced by UK education providers: a new drive to set-up overseas campuses, removing the problem of the restrictive UK visa system. An example is the Association of Colleges’ India initiative.

John Mountford, international director of the Association of Colleges said, “You can’t argue with the figures that show the number of students coming to colleges has gone down since 2010, and you have to assume that the immigration legislation has affected that.”

A new barrier has been put in place since the research was concluded – face-to-face interviews as part of the student visa application process. These are interviews designed to assess credibility, are highly subjective and point to the fact that, “it will not become any easier to study in the UK in the short to medium term,” adds Mr Mountford.

The message is simple: further restrictions would be hugely damaging. “It would be disastrous. Disastrous,” said one principal.

The Rise of Asia – a Threat to UK Education?

We recently looked at the issue of international students turning away from countries with highly restrictive visa regulations and now consider the rise of Asia as a study destination for international students.

The rise of language and further education providers within Asia is a hot topic. Singapore and Malaysia have already established themselves as further education hubs in the region, and the Philippines looks set to follow suit – they are developing their English language sector, soon opening a school in Manila for executive English language learners.

These are not the only examples of a growing trend to deliver English as a Foreign Language programmes at home in Asia. Activity in this sector is gathering pace. The global career specialist Disco Inc from Japan is to launch a new venture called GlobalStudyAsia, which seeks to promote English language learning throughout the Asian continent.

Further, anecdotal evidence form education agents in Korea already shows a growing preference for Korean students to search for an education provider within Asia. Cost has been a key issue highlighted, as well as visa issues. The difficulty of securing visas to study in the West, and the increased ease of securing visas within Asia once further ASEAN integration happens in 2015 will surely continue to drive growth in this sector.

Indeed, the West doesn’t want to miss out either. Opening overseas campuses has become increasingly popular among educators from the UK and US. Education UK offers support to UK Universities wishing to go this route.

Whilst the rise of English language and further education provision throughout Asia is an interesting prospect for Asian education agents, it should raise alarm bells for UK-based educators and subsidiary businesses. The landscape is changing and there will be increased competition to get students to the UK. An oppressive UK visa regime has already caused the number of international students to drop. The rise of a new Asian Tiger will surely bring greater pressure to bear in this area. Whilst it is true that all the traditional Western study destinations are likely to suffer, it is those countries with tough visa regulations that will surely suffer the most.

On a more positive note, one thing that will never change however, is the demand for English language skills and the respect that Western higher education commands. There is hope, but Western governments must take note of the new dangers of making their countries unattractive to international students.

How the Highly Trusted Sponsor Scheme Applies to You

Both migrants and education providers have been under the new Highly Trusted Sponsor Tier 4 rules of the points-based system since 6 April. The list of Highly Trusted Sponsors has changed daily and will continue to do so.

The changes implemented 6 April follow the Government and UK Border Agency’s review of Tier 4. Now, only sponsors who have Highly Trusted status can offer what the UKBA term restricted courses to student migrants. The following are restricted courses and need a Highly Trusted Sponsor Licence to be run:

  • Courses of level 3 under the National Qualifications Framework or equivalent; and
  • Work and study courses that are below degree level (foundation degree programmes are excluded).

For the remaining institutions in the UK who hold a standard Tier 4 Sponsor Licence can only offer courses at level 4 of the National Qualifications Framework. They will also not be able to offer any courses that have a work placement element, unless they are at degree level or foundation degrees. You should check to make sure that your institution is on the Highly Trusted Sponsors List.

The reason that foundation degrees are exempt is that they lead to a minimum qualification of level 5 on the National Qualification Framework.

For student migrants who are currently studying a restricted course and their sponsor does not have Highly Trusted status, they will be permitted to remain at that institution until their course is completed or their visa expires, whichever is sooner.

Students wishing to extend their visas and are studying a restricted course, must change to a sponsor who has a Highly Trusted Sponsor licence.

Study Group UK Discusses the new Highly Trusted Sponsors list

Following the Home Office’s announcement in November of yet another review of the Points Based System, the education sector was a nervous wreck, waiting for news that could destroy the industry in the UK. Alan Johnson went someway to settling our nerves in February when he announced that education providers on the new Highly Trusted Sponsors list could continue to teach foundation and A-level programmes. We wanted to learn more about this new accreditation and how to achieve it.

Initially, the UK Border Agency said that applications for inclusion on the list could be made from 22 March 2010. However, with the system due to launch on 6 April, only 9 days later, the short timescale worried me very much indeed. From past experience, we knew the application process would be bureaucratic, slow and exhaustive. It could have been worse however, as if we were unable to issue CAS numbers until the new Highly Trusted system launched, then our usual busy weeks before our September intake would be unusually quiet. Positively, it seems that industry action from the likes of English UK and Study UK has had an effect; the whole process was revised following a recent meeting with the UK Border Agency on 27 March.

The UK Border Agency’s position on the Highly Trusted Sponsor programme is now that all education providers that receive public money will be automatically included on the new Register on 6 April and will be given until 30 May to submit all relevant and required documentation to keep their Highly Trusted licence. Deadlines have been extended for current A rated sponsors on the Register of Sponsors too, to 30 April and the UK Border Agency aims to process all education providers by 30 June 2010. During this time, we will be able to issue CAS numbers, thank God!

The other interesting element of the new Highly Trusted Sponsor programme is the statistics; the UK Border Agency has set strict thresholds for student dropouts, which institutions must stick to in order to retain their licence. Initially the UK Border Agency proposed 3% as the baseline and that any education provider who was Highly Trusted would be allowed a further % dropout rate from students who complete at least 75% of the course. The recent meeting with the UK Border Agency did not see these percentages changed, but instead they will be applied to all publicly funded institutions too. Further, the UK Border Agency seemed to soften their stance, stating that education providers who exceed these baselines would not necessary have their licence withdrawn, but would be subject to UK Border Agency review of the sponsor’s processes.

The extended deadlines for the submission of relevant documents for a Highly Trusted Sponsor licence applications is warmly welcomed as is the UK Border Agency’s revised approach to dropouts.

We expect the education sector in the UK to remain in a state of shell shock, but the impact of the new system has definitely be softened. However, major damage has been done following the UK Border Agency’s intervention, with the UK losing many international students to the USA and Australia. We’re confident that the new approach from the UK Border Agency and shift in attitude signals a new era and offers real hope that the UK Border Agency is finally beginning to consider all the variables at play and making informed decisions when deciding policy. Hopefully we can now move on and secure the UK’s reputation for a fine education as well as begin to repair the damage to the sector’s reputation.

Tier 4 Policy Guidance: The Highly Trusted Sponsor Scheme

What is Highly Trusted Sponsorship?

The principle of sponsorship – whereby those who benefit most directly from the great contributions migrants make to the United Kingdom (employers and education institutions) are expected to play their part in ensuring our migration system is not abuse – is an integral part of the skilled, temporary work and student tiers of the Points Based System for managed migration.

The new Highly Trusted sponsor category is a further segmentation of the existing sponsor rating system designed to identify those sponsors who are achieving the highest levels of compliance with their sponsor obligations and whose students are showing the greatest compliance with the terms of their visa or leave.

Those holding a “Highly Trusted sponsor” licence will be granted additional freedoms and offered new services to recognise their previous track record of good compliance.

The new Tier 4 Highly Trusted sponsor licence will be launched on 6 April 2010 Sponsors under Tiers 2 and 5 will be able to apply later in the year.

A Highly Trusted sponsor licence will be awarded to sponsors who apply for a licence and can demonstrate full compliance with their sponsor duties over a period of time and who meet the criteria set out. There will be a number of benefits offered to sponsors who qualify as Highly Trusted.

Highly Trusted sponsors will be expected to meet the published Highly Trusted criteria throughout the period they are licensed as Highly Trusted.

Why is the Highly Trusted Sponsor Scheme being Introduced?

The Highly Trusted sponsors licence is designed as recognition of those sponsors who are achieving the highest levels of compliance with their sponsor obligations and whose students are showing the greatest compliance with the terms of their visa or leave.

By identifying those sponsors who are achieving high levels of compliance the UK Border Agency can both target their resources elsewhere on areas of higher risk, and can provide additional services and freedoms which recognise the good track record demonstrated by Highly Trusted sponsors thus far.

The Highly Trusted Sponsor scheme will cut red tape for sponsors who qualify and allow our systems to monitor the others more thoroughly.

Why should Schools and Colleges apply for a Highly Trusted Sponsor Licence?

There are a number of benefits to being a Highly Trusted sponsor. These are:

  • the ability to offer a wider range of courses below degree level as follows:
    • courses at National Qualifications Framework (NQF) level 3 (and equivalent); and
    • courses below degree level (excluding foundation degrees) which include work placements;
  • the ability to assign additional confirmation of acceptance for studies to students who have already undertaken two re-sits providing the re-sit has been approved via your internal panels and boards who authorise additional re-sits in exceptional circumstances. The UK Border Agency retains the right to seek further information if unusual patterns are detected in this area;
  • a more flexible approach to reporting student non-attendance replacing the ’10 expected contacts’ requirement will be the ability to:
    • report non-enrolments as per the current guidance;
    • report any students who formally withdraw from their studies within 10 days as per the current guidance;
    • undertake (at least) two further re-registrations, spaced evenly throughout the academic year and report withdrawals within 10 days of the re-registration process.
  • account management provisions. Each sponsor account manager will manage a portfolio of sponsors and will act as a single point of contact with the assurance of at least one annual visit per year and the option for further services.
  • The UK Border Agency will work with Highly Trusted sponsors in the coming months to identify further service offerings.

What are the Criteria for a Highly Trusted Sponsor Licence?

An application for a Tier 4 Highly Trusted sponsor licence will be assessed against nine criteria. Unless otherwise stated, the sponsor’s performance in the preceding 12 months will be measured against the nine criteria and values set out below:

  1. the sponsor must have a minimum of six months as an A (trusted) sponsor, must at the time of application be rated as A (trusted) for all tiers for which they hold a licence;
  2. the sponsor must have in place recruitment practices to ensure as far as possible genuine students only are accepted and issued with confirmation of acceptance for studies – UK Border Agency will expect sponsors to have acted upon the published guidance and ‘Tier 4 sponsor recruitment practices – Information Sharing’ where recruitment issues are identified;
  3. the sponsor must not have been issued with a civil penalty in the last three years and any civil penalty issued prior to that must have been paid in full;
  4. the sponsor must have in place practices to minimise the number of refusals of leave for migrants applying with a confirmation of acceptance for studies. The UK Border Agency are not publishing a target percentage rate for refusals at this time and will instead look at how far refusal rates deviate from the ‘norm’ for that location and part of the sector. The UK Border Agency expect to be able to publish a clearer statement of their expectations on refusals in due course.
  5. UKBA is concerned about the risk of those who seek to use the student route to enter the UK but have no intention to study. To minimise the occurrence of such abuse of the system, the sponsor must ensure potential students are vetted thoroughly before issuing a confirmation of acceptance for studies. The UK Border Agency expect no more than 2% of the total number of ‘students’ issued with entry clearance (or Leave to Remain) for the sponsoring institution and who have entered or remain in the UK to have not enrolled within 1 month of the course commencing.
  6. Once enrolled, the sponsor must take all reasonable steps to ensure that the students they sponsor will attend and complete their course of study. Please note that any sponsored students who have moved to a different institution, or who have definitely left the United Kingdom or who have applied to switch to a different immigration category are not included in this measure. This measure is cumulative against the original number enrolled as follows:
    • more than 1% of those ceasing their course within 33% of the course duration;
    • more than 2% of those ceasing their studies within 66% of their course duration;
    • more than 3 % of those enrolled who have failed to complete their course;
  7. No more than 5% total number of students sponsored who have been granted leave under Tier 4, and, for those overseas, who have travelled to the UK, must have failed to enrol or failed to complete the course
  8. A sponsor must ensure attendance or progression monitoring is completed in accordance with their sponsor duties; and / or accreditation requirements.
  9. There must not have been any serious concerns raised following a UK Border Agency sponsor inspections in the previous 12 months.

This detailed look at the scheme follows our announcement of the launch of the Highly Trusted Sponsor Scheme on 22 March 2010.

Tier 4 Highly Trusted Sponsor Scheme Launched

The highly anticipated Highly Trusted Sponsor programme for education providers in the UK was officially launched on 22 March 2010.

Since yesterday when the scheme went live, sponsors under Tier 4 of the points based system have been able to apply for a Highly Trusted Sponsor licence and to be included on the Register of Highly Trusted Sponsors, due to be first published 6 April 2010.

Under Tier 4 of the points based system, education providers are given an A or B rating according to their track record and systems and procedures for monitoring student migrants once in the UK. The Highly Trust Sponsor list seeks to build on this current rating system.

However, the scheme is not about academic performance of education providers but instead about immigration and border control. For a sponsor to be granted a Highly Trusted Sponsor licence, schools and colleges will be required to have a proven track record in recruiting genuine students who conform to all immigrations rules when they apply and during their time in the UK.

The UK Border Agency announced their intention to keep a closer eye on sponsors through the new scheme – bureaucracy will be reduced for Highly Trusted Sponsors, freeing more resources to be used in the fight against those that wish to abuse the system. Tight minimum standards will be required by the UK Border Agency and any slip-up will see Highly Trusted Sponsors having their licences permanently withdrawn.

For those schools and colleges that remain on the General Register of Sponsors, they will be greatly limited in the courses they will be allowed to offer to student migrants. In conclusion, schools and colleges who are given Highly Trusted Sponsors licences will feel the immediate pressure of the UK Border Agency reduced, with more flexible working arrangements.

More details on the Highly Trusted Sponsors Scheme to follow shortly.

Tier 4 Policy Guidance: The Highly Trusted Sponsor Scheme

UK Government Responds to Tier 4 E-Petition

We previously posted about the e-petition urging the Government not to destroy one of its strongest export industries, the English language teaching sector. Today the Government have responded and as expected, they’ve said nothing in the 79 words they released in their statement.

The Government’s Response:

Thank you for taking the time and trouble to sign this e-petition.

As you may be aware, the Government is currently conducting a review of Tier 4 of the Points Based System, and we will respond fully in due course once the review is completed.  The aim of this review is to ensure that we continue to give genuine students access to education in the UK, to which the Government is strongly committed, whilst preventing abuse by economic migrants.

View the original here: http://www.number10.gov.uk/Page22219

Points Based System Failing Britain and Applicants for UK Student Visas

Aimed at preventing terrorists from coming to the UK posing as students, the points based system has been criticised by a new report for delaying and even refusing genuine students a UK visa.

International students contribute £8.5 billion a year to the UK economy and the failings of the points based system could hurt Britain dearly, with tens of thousands of students put off the application process, according to the research. The report goes on to claim that it is the errors and obstructive behaviour of immigration officers themselves which is creating this problem.

The report presents direct evidence of immigration officials – working in embassies and high commissions worldwide – failing to properly understand the new rules and refusing student visas for genuine students wanting to come to the UK. It is as a direct experience of this obstructive behaviour by officials that genuine students have been put off from applying for a UK student visa and coming to study.

And the problem of refusing genuine students from getting their visa for the UK could hit Universities hardest; overseas fees represent 8% of UK universities’ income. Refusing genuine student visas for the UK could threaten the financial health of Britain’s tertiary education sector and even threaten Britain’s international reputation for excellence.

The study questioned 2,777 UK student visa applicants between July and September, finding that 40% had experienced serious “errors or obstructions”, putting them off studying in the UK altogether. Worryingly, 10% of respondents were refused a visa at the first application, but granted on their second points based system application.

Problems encountered include being refused a visa for stating your nationality as “Nigeria” and not “Nigerian”; passports lost by staff or sent to the wrong address; and the wrong nationality stamped on forms. With these kind of fundamental errors in the points based system, it is no surprise the Government recently admitted that in the past six months alone, 23,000 international students have had to apply two or three times to be granted their visa. This is clearly a huge cost and inconvenience for genuine students as well as undermining the UK’s reputation for education and teaching.

The cost of one, let alone two or three UK student visa applications is a real turn-off to students considering studying in the UK. Two years ago, a student visa for the UK cost £99 whereas today there has been a 47% increase to £145. In fact, 17% of all students even pay a further £200 to ensure that their paperwork is in order. Fundamentally and at the heart of these problems in the student points based system process, 59% of students questioned found difficulty with the applications forms and guidance notes provided.

One student quoted in the study said: “Nearly everyone got rejected the first time because we did not choose the correct drop-down box in the online application form.” Another said: “I had my bank statements all translated into English, but two words were not translated and they forced me to spend another £60 to re-translate the whole document.”

A further 49% of students had trouble showing that they had the required maintenance funds available, although when applying for UK student visas, you are allowed to show the required funds are available to your parents or a relative under the points based system.

However, one student in the report said: “I come from a working-class family in the United States. The need to demonstrate the total funding for the year all at once was an enormous hardship and required my parents to empty out a retirement savings fund.”

Despite all these problems, it does appear that the majority of students are being persistent and remaining patient, the study concludes. But these difficulties have already impacted on the education sector, with 24% of universities missing their international student targets for 2009.

The UK Border Agency’s response to the report was pretty typical: “Whilst there will always be people who will try to abuse our immigration rules, we have robust systems in place to ensure that only those students who are genuinely coming to the UK to study can do so. The points-based system ensures that only those colleges and schools who provide quality education and take responsibility for their students are licensed to bring in foreign students.”

Major Tier 4 Changes Could Affect Everyone

The Government is on the threshold of destroying one of its strongest export industries, the English language teaching sector, worth billions of pounds annually to the UK in visible and invisible exports. Tier 4 of The PBS, launched in April, brought sweeping changes to the int’l education sector. The gov’t’s aim was to rid the UK of bogus colleges, which were not just a security threat but also a blot on the UK’s unassailable reputation in education. This work has not been completed. A further aim was to streamline the issuing of study visas. Some changes were welcome, others serve only to turn bona fide students away from the UK. The gov’t now aims to further restrict int’l students from studying in the UK. That will devastate this vibrant and highly professional industry, leading to mass redundancies in language schools, secondary schools, colleges & universities, with huge losses to the economy and Treasury. The English language is a crown Jewel – let’s protect and nurture it!

As you may now be aware the government plans to hold a major review of the PBS system this December.  It will cover the below focus areas:

  • Should the minimum level of qualification that can be studied through the PBS be raised from NQF level 3?
  • Should the minimum level of English language qualification that can be studied in the UK through the PBS be raised from CEFR level A2?
  • Should English language testing be introduced for all courses of NQF level 5 and below, including English language courses, and if so, through what mechanism?
  • Should access to vocational courses be restricted?
  • Should we introduce a differential approach for countries which have historically been sources of illegal migration, raising the minimum level of qualification and introducing stricter tests for  individuals from those higher risk countries?
  • Should we restrict the work rights attached to student visas?
  • Should we place limits on the progression of students on courses up the qualifications scale without their returning to their home countries?

These particular points could have a significant and detrimental effect on both education providers and students across all areas.

We have been advised by English UK members that there is an e-petition which is available for all to sign online in order to demonstrate support for the sector.

The main aim for the e-petition is for it to reach the top 5 most-signed petitions in order for it to be taken seriously by the government, so do take a couple of minutes and add your support.

The Petition is now live at  http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/PBSReview/

UK Tier 4 Changes: Two New Announcements

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) is due to launch the new sponsorship management process for Tier 4 of the points-based system on 5th October 2009. In line with this launch, the UKBA announced yesterday two new policies which will affect students under Tier 4. They centre:

  1. Extending the maintenance concession for Tier 4 students who are already in the UK.
  2. All students who apply after the 5th October will have their permission to stay in the UK tied to their Tier 4 sponsor.

The Maintenance Concession

Students applying to study in England under Tier 4 of the points-based system must show that they have enough money to cover all their tuition fees and maintenance costs. Under normal rules, students must show that their available funds have been in their bank account for a minimum period of 28 days, no more than one month before their application date. UKBA have currently been running a concession on students, allowing them to demonstrate that they have the necessary funds on the date that they apply.

Yesterday’s announcement from the UKBA confirms that this concession will now be extended to students already in the UK. If you are making a Tier 4 student application in the UK and apply before February 2010, you will only need to show you have the necessary money on the day of your application.

However, this concession will end for students who are applying outside the UK. From 1st October 2009, all Tier 4 applicants outside the UK will now have to demonstrate that they have held the necessary funds for a 28-day period.

Tying Students’ Permission to Stay to Their Tier 4 Sponsors

On 5th October 2009, permission to stay given to new Tier 4 students will be tied to their Tier 4 sponsor; that is, their education provider. This move by the UKBA is to bring the rules for Tier 4 in line with the other tears of the points-based system.

Following the implementation of this policy, Tier 4 students will find their Tier 4 sponsor’s reference number entered into their passport. For students who want to study with a new education provider and they made their last application on or after 5th October 2009, they will have to apply for a new Tier 4 student visa. Students will not be allowed to start studying with their new Tier 4 sponsor until the outcome of their application has been determined. Any students who do undertake a new course of study while their application is being decided will be committing a criminal offence; one for which you could be prosecuted and/or removed from the country.

For students who want to change schools and who made their last Tier 4 student application before 5th October 2009, they will be allowed to change education providers without applying for a new visa. However, students in this situation must seek permission from UKBA prior to changing their Tier 4 sponsor.