International students, further immigration changes

Eversheds’ David O’Hara asks, how welcome are international students?

International students (nationals of countries outside the EEA or Switzerland) need to be sponsored by an institution which is a registered Tier 4 sponsor. The sponsor needs to assign to the prospective student a Certificate of Acceptance for Studies (CAS). The institution must only assign a CAS to a student whom it reasonably believes will meet the requirements of Tier 4 and will comply with the conditions of their permission to stay in the UK.

The most recent changes to the immigration rules affecting international students were announced to the House of Commons on 13 July 2015.  The changes are “to reduce net migration and to tackle immigration abuse, whilst ensuring we maintain an excellent offer for students who wish to study at our world-class universities.”  Whilst the majority of changes affect new students at FE colleges, there are changes which will directly impact on the HE sector, in particular: 

Where a student completes a course under a Tier 4 General visa but wishes to extend their stay to carry out a further course of study, that course can be at the same or even lower level if the institution can justify it as academic progression.  These rules are being tightened from 3 August 2015, so that students can only extend their studies at the same academic level if the course they wish to study is linked to their previous course, or the institution confirms that the course supports the student’s career aspirations. 

The funds for maintenance are being increased from 12 November 2015 and the “established presence” provision which allows students a reduced level of maintenance is repealed. Institutions will be aware that the refusal rate necessary for annual renewal of the sponsor licence was recently tightened from 20% to 10%. A common reason for refusal by UKVI is the failure by the student to demonstrate maintenance and therefore these changes could have an impact on the refusal rate and sponsor licences.  

‘Despite comments from a number of influential academics and politicians that student migration should be dealt with separately, the government has not heeded such calls and further changes to the rights of international students to study in the UK.’

Ability to work

An important factor affecting the decision whether to come to the UK to study is the ability to work whilst studying. Students studying at degree level or above at an HEI can work for a maximum of 20 hours per week during term time and unlimited during vacations.

The changes will mean that new international students studying at publicly funded FE colleges will no longer be able to work. Whilst this does not directly affect HEIs, universities may be concerned as to the message this sends out to international students.

The repeal of the post-study work visa in 2012 reduced the ability of international students to work in the UK after graduating. The student either has to look to the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) route or, more likely, switch into the Tier 2 (General) route. Switching into this from Tier 4 has the advantage that the prospective employer does not have to carry out the resident labour market test but this is more restrictive than the post-study work route since the role must be at degree level or above and paid at the appropriate rate.

Summary

Whilst the most recent changes have more of an impact on FE rather than HE, there are still important changes to be aware of. This is all set against the backdrop of the government’s attempt to reduce net migration. Despite comments from a number of influential academics and politicians that student migration should be dealt with separately, the government has not heeded such calls and further changes to the rights of international students to study in the UK and remain after they have completed their studies are likely to be driven by the agenda of reducing net migration. 

David O’Hara is Principal Associate at Eversheds LLP. For further information: Telephone: 0161 831 8541 or Email: davidohara@eversheds.com

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