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‘The new visa rules encourage quality students’

Sam Murray, a senior official with the UK Border Agency, explains his country’s latest student visa policies

education Updated: Nov 30, 2011 10:38 IST
Pooja Biraia

What changes has the UK implemented with respect to student visas, which are called Tier 4 visas?
The first set of changes include alterations to English language provisions for students, tougher accreditation and inspection requirements for all sponsors and tighter restrictions on the ability of students to work and bring in dependants. These policies were introduced between April and June 2011. The reforms to UK student visas are being introduced in phases so that students and education providers can adapt to them more easily .

Please elaborate on the changes.
In terms of English language, if students intend to study at the degree level or above, at a higher education institution (HEI), they will need to be adept in the language as per the B2 intermediate level of proficiency defined by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). Those who want to study at the high school level must be competent in English to a minimum of B1 CEFR. Students need to pass these tests before they are issued a confirmation of acceptance. The second change concerns tougher inspection requirements for all sponsors, which means that only good education providers will be able to sponsor international students. Plus, there are tighter restrictions on the ability of students to work and bring their dependants. Students with a Tier 4 General visa, studying at degree level/at an HEI can work 20 hours per week during term time and full-time in the holidays. If studying at a publicly funded further education college, students may work 10 hours per week during term time and full-time in the holidays. Students pursuing a postgraduate degree, for at least 12 months at an HIE and government-sponsored students on courses of longer than six months may bring their dependants.

Why have the student visa rules been made so much more stringent?
These changes aim to stop abuse of the student visa process by those students who are motivated only to work and not study, as well as by education providers who have not been meeting the standard of education that international students deserve and have paid for. The changes are not about preventing high quality students from applying to the UK’s first class education providers. In fact, the new visa rules have been put in place to support good institutions and the good students.

Has the number of student visa applicants decreased this year?
India has long been one of the top source countries of students who wish to study in the UK. The numbers of student visas issued in India in recent years are approximated as 27,000 students in 2008, which increased to 57,000 in 2009. The year 2010 saw a dip with 41,500 Indian students visiting the UK. This year’s figures are not yet available, though we expect to see a decline in the number of visas applied for in 2011 because of the tightening of visa rules, and being in a transition period for their implementation.

How can students verify the authenticity of the institutes they are applying to?
Students need to do their homework and investigate the credibility of prospective education providers and the courses on offer to ensure that they select one that is right for them. They should directly contact institutes and make use of the information about education in the UK from the British Council in India. The UK Border Agency publishes a list of registered education sponsors on its website, including those who have attained ‘Highly Trusted Sponsor’ status. This is to help students select an authentic education provider. Students should ensure that their chosen institute is on this register before they apply.

Will there be further changes in 2012?
Another set of changes will be introduced in April 2012. This will include restrictions on work placements, but not for HIE students. Students will be permitted to study for a maximum of five years above degree level, but there will be exceptions to this rule. While the post-study route will close in April, there will still be opportunities for students to stay on to work in the UK. Students graduating with a degree from a listed institute will be able to apply for a job with a UK Border Agency licensed Tier 2 sponsor. Students will only be able to switch to Tier 2 (skilled workers with an offer of employment) if they are in the UK before their visa expires. They must be paid the minimum salary, ie £20,000 per annum or the minimum set out in the relevant code of practice.

Moreover, the UK Border Agency has also published its first list of financial institutions from which it will not accept documentation in support of Tier 4 visa applications.

The reason for this is that the agency needs to be able to verify that students have the necessary funds to support themselves.

The list for India will come into force for applications submitted after November 24. It is important that students make alternative arrangements if they currently bank with one of these institutions.