Government proposes major changes to Tier 4 UK Student Visas

The Government has announced a range of proposals designed to reduce the level of student migration to the UK.

The Tier 4 Visa currently allows international students to enter the UK to study at a variety of levels, including various courses that are below degree level. Many students first enter onto courses to improve their English language ability and then go on to degree-level courses at University.

Many Universities receive a large amount of funds from international students and would not welcome a reduction in such income.

In order to encourage international students, previous Governments introduced incentives to make studying in the UK more attractive. One of these incentives was the Science and Engineering Graduates Scheme (SEGS), designed to encourage successful graduates in Science and Engineering sectors to remain in the UK as such skills were (and still are) in high demand in the UK.

SEGS was later replaced by the International Graduates Scheme (IGS), which allowed all graduates to remain in the UK and work. Upon introduction of the Points Based System, the Tier 1 Post Study Work Visa (Tier 1 PSW) replaced the IGS.

All of the above visas were designed to encourage international students to enter the UK for the purpose of study by allowing them to remain in the UK and work. This was a strong incentive for international students to spend their money in our education system.

In addition to the above, international students currently have the right to work part-time up to 20 hours per week and full-time during non-term time. This is often required in order to help students support themselves while studying.

The proposed changes would remove Tier 1 PSW and require them to leave the UK immediately after their studies have finished. In addition, the proposed changes would remove the right to part-time work during weekdays unless the work was on campus.

Current rules also permit dependant family members to enter the UK with the student visa holder. This can be necessary for those with spouses and children as the right to a family life is a fundamental human right. Dependants are also allowed to work, thus helping the family to support themselves while studies are undertaken.

The proposed changes suggest that dependants are allowed to enter if the course is for more than 12 months but that they are not allowed to work at all. This could be seen as a ‘back-door’ method of blocking the right to a family life. Indeed, any attempts by the Government to limit migrants rights to a family life would be fraught with peril and legal action could be almost inevitable.

The final major change would be to remove the ability to get a Student Visa for many non-degree level courses.

Similar proposals were discussed in Australia and were met with strong opposition by Australian Universities who feared that the loss of significant revenue would impact negatively upon their ability to provide educational services.

Many education providers in the UK share the same fears as their counterparts in Australia. Any reduction in the perceived attraction of studying in the UK could result in significant reductions in revenue for the UK education sector and other education providers in countries such as Australia are likely to benefit.

These proposed changes, along with the recently announced changes, are designed to significantly reduce net migration to the UK. As the Government is only willing to deal with skilled migrants, who make up the minority of migrants, there is a real danger that the Government will not meet it’s targets and damage economic recovery in the process.

It is of interest to note that the proposed changes make no mention of the Student Visit Visa. This allows non-EU students to enter the UK to attend short courses of up to 6 months and 37,715 non-EU students came to the UK last year on a student visit visa.

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