An Investigation into Student Visitors – Introduction

Research Report into UK Student Visitors (Migration and Border Analysis, Home Office Science)


Overview of student visitor route

The student visitor route was introduced in 2007 to enable people to visit the UK to undertake a short course of study for up to six months. Unlike students seeking entry under Tier 4 of the Points-Based System, student visitors do not have to be sponsored by an educational institution, but they must attend an institution that is accredited to provide education. Student visitors may take any course of six months or less in duration but cannot undertake work or work experience placements, bring dependents or switch to another immigration category whilst in the UK.

Visa nationals require entry clearance while non-visa nationals can receive entry clearance at the port in the UK. Entry Clearance Officers and Border Force Officers have discretionary powers to refuse a visa and/or entry if they are not satisfied about the credibility of the student visitor’s intentions.

The extended student visitor route allows entry for up to 11 months for those studying English language courses. Entering the UK on this route requires entry clearance prior to arrival for both visa and non-visa nationals. This route is included in the population statistics, however, it is not covered by the samples analysed in this report.

Aim of the study

The Government has recently reformed the Tier 4 student route to attract and retain the brightest and the best students, whilst also reducing abuse. In the context of these changes, there has been debate on the student visitor route. The aim of this study is to develop the evidence base on student visitors and establish if this short term study route is being used as intended. This report will inform future
decisions taken by the Home Office in relation to the route.

The study examines non-visa national and visa national student visitors, as well as those who applied for a student visit visa but were unsuccessful. The similarities and differences between these groups are analysed.

Key areas of interest covered in the report include:

  • the characteristics of courses student visitors are undertaking;
  • the nature of the institutions they are attending; and
  • their immigration histories.

Overview of the student visitor population

The most recent data on passenger arrivals show that in 2011, 262,000 people were admitted to the UK under the student visitor route. The majority of these (186,150) were non-visa nationals, including (115,000) from the US. During 2012, 68,372 people were issued student visit visas. This included Russian (10,246), Chinese (9,190) and Turkish nationals (7,621).

Table 1: Student arrivals in the UK, 2011

Country of nationality Tier 4 Student Visitors 2010 Student Visitors 2011
US 12,400 126,000 115,000
Brazil 1,410 10,500 19,300
Russia 3,240 13,900 17,200
Japan 3,230 13,400 15,800
China 48,000 9,240 11,500
Turkey 2,990 8,040 11,000
Saudi Arabia 5,490 5,310 5,920
Taiwan 2,970 4,750 5,570
S. Korea 4,710 4,210 5,510
Mexico 945 2,550 3,890
Canada 3,230 3,330 3,750
India 29,700 3,580 3,610
Hong Kong 6,070 3,360 2,940
Thailand 4,730 2,010 2,700
Australia 1,220 1,490 2,670
Argentina 95 1,810 2,430
Ukraine 955 1,650 2,270
Columbia 2,510 1,120 2,100
Nigeria 10,400 1,950 1,830
Rest of the world 81,380 21,800 26,575
Totals 226,000 218,000 262,000

Source: Migration Statistics. Table ad.03.s:

The number of student visitor arrivals in 2011 represents a 9 per cent increase on 2010 arrivals. This increase was higher for some nationalities and particularly high (84%) for Brazilians. Additionally, visa statistics suggest the number of student visitors has continued to increase since 2011; in the year ending March 2013, 69,542 people were issued student visitor visas, a 6% increase on the previous year.

Figure 1: Trends in student visitor entries, 2007–2011




Non-visa nationals

A four-week period (6 November–2 December 2012) was spent collecting a pilot sample of non-visa national student visitors at Heathrow (Terminals 1, 3, 4 and 5). Heathrow was chosen for the collection of the sample as it receives more student visitors than any other port. Border Force Officers captured information on every non-visa national student visitor coming through the port. This is the only point at which non-visa nationals give their details to the Home Office and therefore this was the most appropriate method for capturing the sample. Although Border Force officers routinely record details of each student visitor on landing cards, specially designed pro-formas were used in the exercise for ease of data collection.

Due to the untested nature of this method of data collection, the sample is not representative. Therefore whilst it can give helpful indications about the people who use the route, caution should be taken when generalising sample findings to the population of non-visa national student visitors as a whole.

Due to the nature of the sample design, the information provided on non-visa nationals is more limited than for visa nationals; however it still covers the key areas of interest.

Visa nationals

Student visitor visa application forms were used to provide this sample. The information obtained for each person in the sample is the same information provided in the visa application.

To select the sample, a list of all applicants for a student visit visa for a one year period between June 2011 and 31 May 2012 was drawn from the Central Reference System (CRS), the database used to record and process visa applications. There were 67,998 cases: 60,492 successful applicants, 7,506 unsuccessful applicants. Unresolved cases were excluded.

Samples of successful and unsuccessful applicants were drawn separately. For successful applicants, a simple random sample using systematic selection was drawn. Cases were ordered by nationality, visa-issuing post, age and date of application and a systematic random sample was
drawn. This ensured that the sample represented a spread of nationalities, visa-issuing posts, ages and application dates. For unsuccessful cases, a systematic random sample from a random start was also drawn, but four of the top five nationalities (Russians, Nigerians, Indians, Chinese) were oversampled to maximise the possibility of analysis by nationality. In all, 750 successful applicants were selected and 306 unsuccessful applicants.

Weighting was used to compensate for the oversampling to ensure the correct representation.

Only statistically significant findings (to 95% level) are reported in the text.

Part 2 of 5

Part 1 – Summary
Part 2 – Introduction
Part 3 – Non-visa nationals
Part 4 – Visa nationals: successful applicants
Part 5 – Visa nationals: unsuccessful applicants

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