Community, Diaspora and Immigration

Student migration overhaul: post study work will go – but not until 2012

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In March 2011 the Home Secretary announced an “overhaul” of the student visa system. Among the other announcements it appears that Tier 1 Post Study Work will be closed after all – but not until April 2012.

What else is included in the overhaul?
To understand the measures announced by the UKBA on 22 March 2011 it’s necessary to explain the context in which they are going to take place. The first measure is the imposition on the colleges at which students study in the UK of an even more demanding regime than that which has been applied since the Points Based System began.
Since the introduction of the Points Based System responsibility for the monitoring of students coming to the UK to study has been handed over from the UKBA itself to the staff who run colleges and universities in the UK. The Immigration Rules provide that Students can only come to the UK to study if they’ve been given a Certificate of Acceptance for Studies by an institution which is listed on the UKBA’s online register of licensed Tier 4 Sponsors.
By a separate regime, set out not in the Immigration Rules but in a frequently amended document entitled the Tier 4 of the Points Based System – Sponsor Guidance the UKBA has propounded a set of criteria which must be met by anyone who wishes to obtain a Tier 4 Sponsor licence. These include being “accredited” by an accreditation body approved by the UKBA. The Tier 4 of the Points Based System – Sponsor Guidance also sets out the duties of all licensed Tier 4 Sponsors – in terms of monitoring students’ attendance etc.
If the “education provider” does not adequately ensure that the students enrolled with it comply with the conditions of their leave to remain it stands to lose its licence. If that happens it becomes open to the UKBA to curtail the leave to remain of any student studying there – or to limit it to 60 days.
When Tier 4 began in March 2009 Tier 4 Sponsors were either rated “A” or “B”. “B” rated Sponsors are effectively placed on probation – and aren’t allowed to issue Certificates of Acceptance for Studies until they have “demonstrated [their] commitment to make improvements by signing up to the measures set out in an action plan” issued by the UKBA.

In April of 2010 the UKBA added a new form of Sponsorship – the “Highly Trusted Sponsor”. These Sponsors are able to offer courses of study which are below degree level and which include “work placements”. Other Tier 4 Sponsors are not allowed to do this. Applications for Highly Trusted Sponsor status will only succeed if, among other things, the Sponsor has had an “A” rated sponsor licence for at least 6 months and can “demonstrate that students are vetted thoroughly”  before any Certificates of Acceptance for Studies are issued.
The Home Secretary announced that from April 2012 all Tier 4 Sponsors will have to be Highly Trusted Sponsors. Furthermore they will have to obtain accreditation from Ofsted and its devolved equivalents. (Not it seems from the accreditation bodies referred to in the Tier 4 of the Points Based System – Sponsor Guidance).
The next change is to the level the command of the English language which potential students will have to show in order to be allowed to come to the UK to study. Those who are going to study at degree level will have to have English usage at level B2 of the Common European Framework for languages. This is described as follows:
“Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party.”
For people studying at below degree level the level of English will be B1, which means:
“Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans”.
More dramatically – UKBA officers will be given a discretion summarily to refuse any Tier 4 applicant who can’t speak English without an interpreter.
The next measure is concerned with the work students do. From April 2012 unless they are studying at University or at publicly funded further education colleges students will only be allowed to work in the holidays. University students will be allowed to work up to 20 hours per week, and students at further education colleges for up to 10 hours per week.
Those on courses which include “work placements” (basically work experience) are currently allowed to do the placements for half of their time, and must study for the other half. From April of 2012 they’ll only be allowed to do the placements for one third of their time.
Strikingly it was also announced that from April 2012 Tier 4 Students will not be able to be joined by their dependant family members, unless they are the dependants of a government sponsored student or of a student undergoing a post graduate course at a university. By contrast at the moment all students on longer courses are entitled to be joined by their family members.
Lastly – the government will impose a limit of five years on the duration of Tier 4 General Students’ stay in the UK. At present there is no such limit if the student is studying at degree level or higher. Those studying at below degree level will have to leave after a maximum of three years, as they do currently.
The government’s announcement coincides with the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee’s report on student visas. In that report the Committee noted the huge contribution made by students to the UK’s economy and warned that the removal of the Tier 4 Post Study Work route could reduce the attractiveness of the UK as a destination for students, as well as questioning whether it was appropriate to classify students as “migrants” and to include them in the net annual migration statistics at all.
While the changes outlined by the Home Secretary will not come into effect until April of 2012, they will undoubtedly influence decisions made both by those who plan come to the UK to study and who are already here as Tier 4 General Students.
Anyone who may be affected by these changes is urged to obtain professional legal advice.

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