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Will UK Border Agency Reforms serve Higher Education Providers?

Change is a-foot at the UK Border Agency (UKBA) but will it be meaningful change? Will the needs of the UK’s education industry be met?

Following reports of a large backlog of cases and of foreign prisoners not being removed from the UK, an announcement for change was made. No, this wasn’t 2013, but May 2006. Then UK Home Secretary John Reid proclaimed that the Home Office’s Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) was “not fit for purpose”. Reid said that to deal with the issues faced by the IND, radical changes were needed.

And so the UKBA was born in 2008, amid much fanfare. A stronger framework focused on delivery and accountability. Strengthened leadership and management. A culture of change. Immigration Laws would be strengthened and simplified to make the system much more effective.

Fast-forward to 2013 and the current Home Secretary Theresa May announced that the UKBA was “not fit for purpose”. And now, the UK Border Agency is to be swallowed by the Home Office once again. Apparently there is rather large backlog of cases. UKBA performance just wasn’t good enough. There must be a new culture of change. Another round of full structural change. New IT systems are required, and Immigration Laws need to be strengthened and simplified again. Apparently.

What does this all mean for the UK’s education providers? Where does it leave them? How will things be moving forward? Could there be any kind of common-sense led change of Tier 4 of the Points Based System (PBS)? Maybe. Funnily enough, the general feeling through the education sector is one of “we’ve been here before”. This is not to say that radical change is not required. Indeed, there are many complaints from those who have to work the UKBA day-to-day.

It was inevitable really that the UKBA would be axed. It is hard for any public body to continue after such damning criticism: a “shambolic” approach to dealing with correspondence, a “notably poor level of customer service”, “inexcusable” that so many cases were not processed in a timely manner.

When disbandment of the IND was announced in 1998, a white paper was released with the title Fairer, Faster, Firmer – a Modern Approach to Immigration and Asylum. Isn’t it funny that today in 2013, that is still what stakeholders are asking for.

Let us also not forget that education providers in the UK are expected to pay £8,000 annually to be registered as a Tier 4 Sponsor – which should be granting them access to information and advice from the UKBA on international student recruitment in relation to the UK’s Immigration Rules. Applicants too are paying for more costly same-day services because the normal service is too slow – there is no guarantee that an application will be processed in-time for their start dates.

Whilst people who interact with the UKBA simply want to comply and move through the process as pain-free as possible, the UKBA almost seems determined to make the process as difficult as possible. Sponsors want clear advice and direction as to their responsibilities, students want to be treated fairer and faster, yet both groups also want the UKBA to be firm in appropriate areas. However, what use of sanctions against those who don’t comply, if there is very little evidence of UKBA enforcing said sanctions correctly?

So, will the latest round of changes work? Many remain cynical given the publicised internal memo distrusted to UKBA staff: “Most of us will still be doing the same job in the same place with the same colleagues for the same boss and with the same mission”. Ho-hum.

Again, many UKBA staff have also been cynical of the proposed changes. Just like many in the UK education sector, many UKBA staff have said “we’ve been here before”, with centralisation followed by decentralisation, name changes, mergers and de-mergers; a shadow agency, full agency status and now the completion of the cycle with a return to the main Home Office.

It appears there remains a more pessimistic than optimistic feeling to the coming changes.

The Demise of Tier 1 and the Threat to Business Education

There is no doubt that following the scrapping of Tier 1 Post-Study visa of the UK Points Based System student numbers are down. Many UK business schools have reported enrolments down compared to this time last year. The Association of MBAs contacted its 47 member education providers in the UK and discovered shocking concerns. Over 90% of members were against scrapping the post-study route, citing fears of damage to competitiveness, reputation and finances, not only of the schools themselves, but also the wider economy.

MBA degrees are targeted primarily at mature students who already have a wealth of business experience behind them. Many are taking the next steps in advancing their careers, often spending between £30,000 and £50,000 on tuition alone. According to a recent survey by the Association of MBAs, 51% of students are self-funded, 32% receive company sponsorships, 10% use bank loans and none receive government assistance.

The message of the Coalition’s immigration policy is precisely the opposite of the slogans: the UK is to all intents and purposes “closed for business”. The UK is also loosing the talent its universities are producing: it will become much harder for graduates to use the specialised knowledge, skills and networks that they have learnt during their course in the wide UK economy.

Before the UK introduced the Points Based System and the Post-Study Visa, the majority of international students graduating in the UK immediately returned home. There were simply few opportunities available in the UK and students. What has been important for providers of business courses in the UK is that the post-study route gave students an increased perception of opportunity, making the UK a highly attractive study destination. Sadly, this perception has now been deeply dented once again.

Unintended Consequences

Scrapping the post-study work route will have many unintended consequences and ultimately sends out a negative message about brand UK:

  • Reduced competitiveness: UK business schools will lose out to their competitors across the world. Currently 8 UK business schools are in the Top 50 of the world, but rankings rely on attracting the brightest and the best.
  • Loss of diversity: Internationalisation is a key ranking factor for universities and a reduction in international student numbers would harm UK business school rankings. Further, diversity and mixing with a broad range of cultures are pillars of the best business programmes.
  • Reduced revenue: Universities face the prospect of tight spending cuts and a significant loss in revenue from lost enrolments following the scrapping of Tier 1 Post-Study Work. In 2008, 73% of all students enrolled at UK business schools were international students. That is an average of 126 international students per UK business school. A serious amount of money.
  • Reduced labour force competiveness: A reduced recruitment pool of graduates in the UK will make international companies less willing to base or continue to base their operations here.
  • Wider UK economy damaged: Overseas business school graduates are a major export industry and boost UK investment in the long term due to the networks and ‘good will’ generated during their time as students. The UK currently trains, influences and exports business leaders from major global financial centres. In 2008, students from outside the EU comprised of 83% of all international students enrolled at UK business schools. The top non-EU feeder countries were: India (19%), China (5%), Nigeria (5%), the United States (4%), Singapore (4%), United Arab Emirates (4%), Malaysia (3%), Russia (3%), Egypt (3%) and South Africa (3%). A total of 83 countries were reported.

Global competition

The UK already faces strong competition from business schools in Europe, North America and Australia, markets which offer attractive employment opportunities to graduates. And high quality English-language MBA provision is expanding rapidly in emerging economies such as China, India and Latin America—these are the highest growth regions for accreditations by the Association of MBAs.

UK schools must compete at the highest level to attract students to its programmes and the consultation has already had a negative impact on MBA providers. While the new policies are not as bad as initially anticipated, the damage of the debate is already done. Much has been made in the foreign press, particularly in emerging markets, of the bad atmosphere for foreign students in the UK.

And while Tier 2 visas remain an option for graduates, many smaller companies such as start-up business ventures lack the resources and infrastructure to deal with the complexities of the bureaucracy surrounding that process.

Leading Scottish University’s Sponsor Licence Suspended

A leading Scottish university has had their licence to sponsor student migrants suspended amid claims of breaches of immigration rules.

Some nursing students at Glasgow Caledonian University have been accused of working full time leading to their sponsor’s licence suspension, the first time such a step has been taken against a university.

Calling the action “disproportionate” a University spokeswoman added that international students voted the University as “top in Scotland for international student support”.

The situation arose following UK Border Agency suspicions that several nursing students from the Philippines were either working full time in care homes or only being at university for one or two hours per month. The Glasgow Caledonian University nursing degree requires 15 hours per week contact time.

The action comes following a major tightening of UK immigration policy by the Home Office set against a backdrop of wide-spread abuse.

Phil Taylor, a UK Border Agency Regional Director said, “I can confirm that Glasgow Caledonian University’s Tier 4 licence has been suspended following concerns about abuses of the immigration system.

“Highly Trusted Sponsors bringing in international students must ensure that they are attending the course for which they are enrolled and that they are complying with the requirements of the immigration rules.

“The UK Border Agency makes regular checks on sponsors, and where we find evidence that they are not fulfilling their duties, we may suspend their licence.”

All is not lost for Glasgow Caledonian University as they now have 28 days to show the Home Office that their worries have been addressed. Failure to do so however, would see the university have their licence permanently withdrawn.

A University spokeswomen said, “GCU is co-operating with the UK Border Agency to address issues specific to a group of international students on the BSC Nursing (Professional Development) and we expect to have these resolved in the near future.

“As conversations are ongoing, the UKBA has asked the university to implement a 28 day suspension of our processing of immigration paperwork, as their processes require.

“While we feel that this action is disproportionate, we are working with them to fully understand the issues and implement any changes needed as a result.

“Our duty of care to our students is our absolute priority and they have time and again recognised that by voting us top in Scotland for international student support. We are proud of that, and will ensure it remains the case as we make any changes requested of us.

“GCU operates at the highest standards and our reputation is hard earned and well known. The Quality Assurance Agency Scotland recently wrote to again express its confidence in Glasgow Caledonian University – the highest judgment it can award in its regular reviews of standards in universities and colleges across the UK.”

Working After Your Studies – an International Comparison

The UK’s main competitor countries in international student recruitment also make some allowances for international students who wish to stay and look for work after completing their studies. Some of these can lead on to further grounds for extending their stay (e.g. as workers).

New Zealand’s Skilled Graduate Job Search visa

For students who complete a course of at least three years’ completion time and do not have a job offer. They must apply within three months of the end of the student visa and meet a minimum maintenance funds requirement. Successful applicants are allowed to stay and work for up to 12 months. In addition, the Practical Experience After Completion of Studies work visa is for persons with an offer of employment relevant to their studies. It lasts for two years (three years if working towards membership of a professional association).

Australia’s Skilled – Graduate (Temporary) visa

Subclass 485 is for students who have completed an eligible qualification due to at least two years’ study. It lasts for 18 months and is subject to age restrictions. The application must be made within six months of completing their studies. Applicants must have the skills and qualifications required to meet the terms of the Skilled Occupation List and nominate an eligible occupation on the list.

Canada’s Post-Graduation Work Permit Program

For students who graduated from a participating Canadian post-secondary institution having studied full-time and for longer than eight months. Persons must apply within 90 days of having completed the course and whilst their study permit is still valid. They are granted a work permit for no longer than the length of studies (and possibly shorter), up to a maximum of three years.

Germany allows extended residence permits

Students who complete a full-time university course can extend their student residence permits for up to a year in order to look for a job appropriate to their degree. Whilst looking for a job they are subject to the same employment restrictions as students. There is also a requirement to have sufficient maintenance funds in place.

France Probation converted to work permit

Students who earn a degree equivalent to a Master’s or above can apply for a temporary, non-renewable residency permit valid for six months. This entitles the holder to work in any job ‘at up to 60% of full employment.’ Persons with a contract related to their studies and a salary of at least 150% of the minimum wage are then allowed to work full-time (they must then apply for a change of residence status from ‘student’ to ‘employee’).

Other students can accept an offer of employment after graduation, but must request a change of residence status. This is assessed according to factors including the employer’s motives, the applicant’s background and their length of studies in France.

UK Must have skilled job offer and switch to Tier 2 before student visa expires

The current Post-Study Work route will be closed from April 2012. Those graduating from a UK university with a recognised degree, PGCE, or PGDE will be able to switch into Tier 2. There will not be a limit on these switchers. They will only be able to switch if they are in the UK, before their student visa expires. The normal Tier 2 requirements will apply, except for the Resident Labour Market Test.

Students whose course was for 12 months or longer will have 4 months after their course end date, all others will have just 2 months to secure a skilled job offer and apply to switch into Tier 2 of the Points Based System.

Updated Secure English Language Test Providers

For Tiers 1, 2, 4 and spouses and partners. When all of the transitional arrangements have expired, this new list will replace all existing lists of English language test providers.

Transitional arrangements

For Tiers 1 and 2 of the points-based system tests that have been booked or taken with the existing lists of providers can be used in applications as long as they are received by the UK Border Agency on or before 17 May 2011. From 18 May 2011 only tests taken with providers on the new list can be used as part of applications for Tier 1 and Tier 2.

For those applying as a spouse or partner, you may use a test with an existing provider in an application received on or before the 17 July 2011. From 18 July 2011 all applications must be submitted with evidence from a provider on the new list published on the 6 April.

There are no transitional arrangements for Tier 4 of the points-based system as the current list of providers is being expanded. A test can therefore be taken with any provider on the new list from 6 April 2011 and submitted as part of an application.

Approved Secure English Language Test Providers April 2011 (pdf)

Tier 1 to Close in Three Months, Act Fast

The Tier 1 Post Study Work category will close in April 2011 and the replacement category – the exceptional talent visa – will be very hard indeed to get. For students who are already in the UK and qualify under the Tier 1 (General) route, you are advised to get your applications in as soon as possible. As a sign of the times to come, Tier 1 (General) applications have not been available outside the UK since 23 December 2010.

The following categories will still be open to migrants wishing to stay in the UK:

  • Any other Tier 1 category
  • Any Tier 2 category
  • Any Tier 4 category
  • Work permit holder
  • Dependent partner of a Tier 4 migrant

There have been many reports published recently showing that many people are coming to the UK through the intra-company transfer route available in Tier 2 of the Points Based System and then switching to the Tier 1 (General) category in order to remain in the UK.

April 2011 will see the introduction of the Coalition Government’s permanent immigration cap. It is becoming increasingly likely that all movement of skilled labour in the UK will only be secured with a job offer from a UK entity. This position has arisen from concerns that many migrants have been granted visas as skilled workers, but have been working in low-skilled jobs.

The immigration cap to come in to force will operate as follows:

  • The quota for Tier 2 visas will be significantly increased from the current quota of 20,700
  • Replacing Tier 1 (General) the Exceptional Talent Visa will be capped at 1,000 per year only

The increased Tier 2 quota will however, not apply to various groups of people:

  • Those already in the UK and making a Tier 2 in-country application
  • Tier 2 migrants dependants
  • Employees moving through the Intra-Company Transfer scheme

It will also become more difficult to come under the Tier 2 (General) visa as this will be limited to graduate level job vacancies from April 2011.

Immigration Minister Defends Student Clampdown

There are too many bogus students and abuse of the system must stop, Damian Green said when defending plans to clampdown on the student visa system. He insisted that recent research showing only a small proportion of private colleges have taken up highly trusted status, demonstrates “unpleasant” abuses of the visa system.

Educational leaders have widely condemned the proposed deep cut in student numbers, describing them as an “absolute travesty.”

The Immigration Minister maintains that sharply reducing the numbers of non-EU migrant students was the only way to stop the bogus colleges that continue to abuse the system and offer a way a fraudulent way into the UK. He maintains that this is a crucial part of the Coalition government’s immigration plans.

Plans to abolish student visa extensions and new applications from in the UK would mean that tens of thousands of students already here would have to go home after their studies. Further, if a student wants to study a course below degree level, they will only be able to do so with a highly trusted sponsor. There are also plans for more frequent and rigorous UK Border Agency inspections to ensure compliance.

As well as educational institutions, students will also face more scrutiny. The required level of English is planned to be raised and students will have to show solid evidence of academic progression. For those students that wish to bring their family to the UK during their studies, severe restrictions are planned for dependants’ work rights.

Damian Green went on to say, “There will be a greater emphasis on quality and we shall drive abuse out of the system. The primary objective of studying in the UK must be to study, not to work or to acquire long-term residency status.”

In his speech to the Reform think-tank, the minister said 91,000 people came to the UK in the past year to study at institutions not verified as “highly trusted”, adding that: “The potential for abuse is clearly enormous.”

Two-thirds of the non-EU migrants who enter the UK come on student visas and the Government wants to bring these numbers down as it tries to fulfil its pledge to cut net migration from 200,000 to fewer than 100,000 by 2015.

From Damian Green: Will the Changes Effect You?

Changes are coming to the student visa system- but will they have any effect on you? Even if you are not a foreign born student, these changes will matter to everyone.

Students and their dependants at present account for around two thirds of the visas issued under the Points Based System. This government is clear about its commitment to reform the UK’s immigration system, and to do this we must look very closely at just who is coming into Britain on a student visa.

Attracting talented students from abroad is vital to the UK. However we must be more selective about who can come here and how long they can stay. We launched a consultation in the autumn asking for views on proposals to achieve this.

The proposals are aimed at tackling the weaknesses in the current system, which has seen the student route used as a means to come here, with a view to living and working, rather than studying. We need to stop this abuse. This is not an issue largely for university students, but for those studying below degree level.

Around 41 per cent of students sponsored between April 2009 and the end of August 2010 were studying at below degree level. The types of courses on offer can be as basic as tuition in CV-writing. While this may be entirely suitable for young people in the UK looking to move from secondary education into work, this can hardly be worth the thousands of pounds an international student invests in coming to study in the UK.

I have seen countless examples of students coming to the UK with no real intention of studying, as well as questionable courses being offered by small private colleges. For instance, there was a student from Delhi who wanted to be a doctor, who travelled here to enrol a diploma course in ‘hospitality management’. When he was interviewed by UK Border Agency staff it became clear he could not understand English, so he was sent back home. An applicant wanting to enrol on a computer studies course, when questioned by border staff, did not understand the most rudimentary computer terminology, and had never heard of Microsoft. He was also sent back home.

We want to make sure students have good English language skills before they come to the UK. We want to limit the ability to bring in dependants on a student visa and we want to crack down even harder on bogus colleges. Higher standards will be needed for them to qualify to accept international students. They will be inspected more rigorously.

This Government wants high calibre students with the genuine desire to study to come to our country for temporary periods, and then return home with enhanced skills and career prospects. We have heard views on our proposals from a wide range of people through out the UK – including many existing students.

We need to continue attracting some of the brightest and the best to our universities. At the same time, we need to stop people abusing student visas to come here for other purposes. We will look at the results of the consultation and announce our final proposals in a couple of months.

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.”