An Investigation into Student Visitors – Non-visa nationals

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

Student visitors not requiring a visa

About the sample

The top four nationalities in the non-visa sample were Brazilians, US nationals, Japanese and Koreans. All other nationalities each made up less than two per cent of the sample, and were therefore grouped. The category of ‘Other Americas’ consists of nationals from Canada, Mexico,
Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Salvador. ‘Other Asia’ consists of nationals from Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The ‘All Others’ category consists of nationals from Israel, New Zealand and Australia.

Table 2: Nationalities of non-visa student visitors in the population and sample compared

Nationality Number in sample (2012) % in sample (2012) Number in non-visa population (2011) % in non-visa population (2011)
Brazilian 325 34.5 19,300 10.4
US 254 27.0 115,000 61.8
Japanese 164 17.4 15,800 8.5
Korean 68 7.2 5,510 3.0
Rest 131 13.9 30,540 16.4
Totals 942 100 186,150 100

The distribution of nationalities in the sample (2012) differs from the distribution of nationalities in the population (2011). It is possible that population characteristics have changed during this time, however, the sample may not be representative and so can only be taken to give an indication of the population.

The majority of sampled student visitors were aged between 18 and 25 (56%), with a further 26 per cent aged between 26 and 35. The median age was 23. At the other end of the scale, the proportion of sampled student visitors aged over 46 was five per cent.

The majority of those in the sample were female (61%).

Proposed visit to the UK

The median length of stay was seven weeks. Less than one-quarter of the sample (23%) were staying for more than 12 weeks, showing the majority of the sampled student visitors came for less than one-half of the time allowed. There were some differences by nationality: 57 per cent of Koreans were staying longer than 12 weeks. However, this applied to only 11 per cent of Brazilians.

Most student visitors sampled reported they intended to stay in the UK for a similar length of time as their course length. Only 10 per cent of the sample reported staying for at least two weeks longer than the duration of their course, with only one per cent (seven cases) staying eight weeks or longer than their course duration. US nationals were the least likely to stay longer, with four per cent staying at least two weeks longer than their course duration. Koreans were most likely to stay for at least two weeks longer than the length of their course.

Courses studied

Length of courses

Course length was distributed in a similar fashion to the length of stay but on average was longer. This reflects the fact that some students were re-entering the UK part way through a course, and so not staying for the full duration of the course. Additionally, a small minority of students were studying part-time courses of several years in length, and so not making visits for the entire duration of the

The median value for the length of courses studied was eight weeks. The most common value was 4 weeks (19%) and another common value was 12 weeks (13%). These values are likely to reflect common English language course and university term lengths respectively.

Types of courses

Around two-thirds of student visitors in the sample came to study English language courses (62%). Aside from differences arising from comparison of English and non-English speaking countries, whilst between 85 per cent and 95 per cent of Japanese, Brazilian and Korean student visitors were studying English language, for nationals of countries in the ‘Other Asian’ category this was only 48 per cent. Instead these student visitors were more likely to report studying business-related or other skilled courses (14% for both).

Exchange courses (often in conjunction with a university in the student visitor’s country of nationality) were also popular (26%) particularly for US nationals, 85 per cent of whom were taking part in one. A small proportion of student visitors were studying courses classed as ‘other skilled’ and ‘recreational’ (3% for each). Examples of the former include military vehicle propulsion and parliamentary reporting, whereas examples of the latter include fashion design and French pastry making.

Table 3: Courses to be studied, by non-visa national sample

Course type All %
Standard English 44.9
Exchange Programme 26.2
Intensive English 11.1
Other skilled 3.4
Recreational 3.4
Postgraduate programme based in UK 2.9
Business English 2.2
Business-related 2.2
Vacation English 1.8
Teaching English as a foreign language 1.8
Total 942


Limited information was reported on the qualifications that the sampled student visitors would attain in many cases making it impossible to determine the corresponding National Qualifications Framework (NQF) level . Some respondents reported that their course led to a certificate, of which the level was unknown. Additionally, some respondents (those studying English language courses in particular) reported that they would receive a qualification, the level of which would depend on the level of fluency attained during the course and thus was unknown before the start.

Figure 2: Level of course studied (according to National Qualifications Framework) recorded by non-visa national student visitors in the sample.


Just under two- thirds (65%) reported that they would receive no qualification, or one without equivalence to the NQF. This was particularly prevalent among the sampled student visitors from countries in the ‘Other Americas’ group (93%), Brazilians (92%) and Japanese (88%).

Just under one-third (30%) of the sample were studying courses equivalent to degree level. This represents 23 per cent taking courses equivalent to undergraduate degree level (NQF level 6) and 7 per cent taking courses equivalent to postgraduate degree level (NQF levels 7 and 8).

Whilst 72 per cent of US nationals were taking level 6 qualifications, only 1 per cent of the Japanese nationals and none of the Brazilians in the sample were studying at this level. This can largely be attributed to the majority of US nationals visiting as part of an exchange programme, usually in partnership with a host university in the US.

Additionally, whilst 25 per cent of nationals of countries within the category of ‘All Others’ were studying qualifications at levels 7 or 8, only 2 per cent of Japanese and 4 per cent of Brazilians were studying for qualifications at these levels.

Institutions, sponsorship and accreditation

The majority of student visitors (87%), were coming to study at institutions on the Tier 4 Register (Figure 3). This included 82 per cent studying at institutions with highly trusted sponsor (HTS) status. This status is given by the Home Office to institutions with at least a 12 month proven track record of satisfactory compliance with immigration requirements. An additional 3 per cent were studying at A-Rated institutions, and 2 per cent were studying at ‘legacy’ institutions. Of those sampled, 27 per cent were attending universities.

Figure 3: Tier 4 Register status of institutions attended by non-visa national student visitors in the sample.


Of those institutions not listed on the Tier 4 Register, eight per cent of institutions were accredited by the British Accreditation Council or Accreditation UK. A small minority (5%) were attending institutions whose sponsorship or accreditation status could not be determined.

Additionally, five per cent of student visitors were attending institutions that had their Tier 4 sponsor licences revoked. However, none of these had their licences revoked for a breach of sponsorship duties.

Students attending institutions with HTS status were also attending longer courses – a median of ten weeks, in comparison with a median of four weeks for those attending institutions without HTS status.

Costs related to study in the UK

In many cases no information was provided for fees or an explanation was given that the student’s parents or government had paid. Additionally, many of the sampled student visitors from the US had already paid fees to the home institution in the US, which included the cost of exchange. Cases were excluded from the analysis where this was evident.

The median fee value in the sample was £2,308. Fees ranged in value from £0 to £94,000. Values above £30,000 were examined to see if they may be errors. However, all corresponded to long courses at NQF levels 7 or 8, (with the £94,000 representing a PhD in
education research) and so were deemed likely to be accurate and left in the analysis.

The US nationals in the sample had paid the highest fees by far, with a median of £9,000. However, this figure may in some cases still represent the amount paid annually to the host institution, rather than just the cost of exchange. The next highest median was for Koreans, who had paid £2,503. Brazilian and Japanese student visitors had paid the least (median £1,500 for both groups).

Fees varied by the institutions’ accreditation status. Those on the Tier 4 Register that had HTS status were the most expensive (median £2,500), while the least expensive (3% of cases) were those with ‘A-Rated’ status (median £580). Those that were not on the Tier 4 Register at all were much less expensive than those with HTS status, with a median of £1,862 (Table A12). Amongst all courses in the sample, postgraduate courses based in the UK (18 cases) were the most expensive with a median of £12,875. Exchange programmes were also expensive, with a median of £8,686. Recreational courses cost much less, with a median of £490. Among English language courses, all were less expensive than the median fee but intensive English courses cost the most (median £1,969). Business English courses (19 cases) were least expensive, with a median of £1,100.

Previous trips

A minority (7%) of the sampled student visitors reported having previously come to the UK as a student visitor. Table 4 shows the number of times sampled student visitors have visited previously. These repeat visits have been examined by the number of times visited and by whether the visits were prior to or during 2012.

Table 4: Previous visits made by sampled non-visa national student visitors

Description of previous visit Number
One previous visit before 2012 31
Multiple visits before 2012 10
One previous visit during 2012 6
Multiple visits, including during 2012 7
Total 54

Where multiple visits had been made, the number of visits ranged from 2 to 14 previous times, with the most common number of previous visits being 3. An additional eight cases could be identified where multiple visits had been made, but the student was studying a long part-time course and the visits appeared to be linked to this same course. This may have also been the case for some other of the repeat visits identified, but it was not possible to tell from the data collected.

Part 3 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

One thought on “An Investigation into Student Visitors – Non-visa nationals

  1. John G

    I know that the UKBA target certain countries for tougher interviews and many are refused on English language (even if they want to go to the UK to study English) following a series quick-fire questions through a plate glass window. Also, that the “new” student visitor visa is harder to obtain as it is issued at the discretion of the Entry Clearance Officers rather than on the basis of a points score, and that students are not allowed to work. Can we see more percentages on these matters?

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