International students' rights watchdogs have welcomed the "landmark" court victory of a Chinese student threatened with deportation because he worked between courses.
According to the UK Council for Overseas Student Affairs, the judgment is significant because it emphasises that an overseas student's right to take up paid work is not affected by a temporary interruption in their studies.
The student, Kan Zhou, was arrested by the immigration service in December 2001 when he tried to enrol at a college after dropping out of a course at another institution two months earlier.
The Home Office subsequently explained that it was "seeking his (Mr Zhou's) removal from the UK" because he had continued to work part time in the periods he was not studying, breaching his conditions of entry to the country.
But the Court of Appeal granted Mr Zhou's claim for judicial review, ruling that the Home Office had improperly sought to remove him on grounds that left him with no automatic right of appeal.
The court said: "We anticipate that it will suffice for us simply to quash the secretary of state's decision to remove him (Mr Zhou)."
The court heard how Mr Zhou had decided to leave Brooklands College in Weybridge, Surrey, for academic reasons, but had been warned by student services there that he was "flouting" Home Office rules because of his poor attendance record, and he would have to return to China.
Brooklands reported Mr Zhou to the immigration service, and he was arrested when he tried to enrol at another college.
Mr Zhou told the court that he had wanted to leave Brooklands because it had such a high proportion of Chinese students that it was not a satisfactory environment for learning English.
He alleged that Brooklands used the threat of reporting students to the immigration authorities to discourage them from transferring to other institutions.
While the Home Office said it had no reason to disbelieve Brooklands, and Mr Zhou admitted that his attendance had been poor, he continued to press for a judicial review on the grounds that he had not broken visa rules by working.
The Court of Appeal ruled that his part-time work had not put him in breach of visa regulations and that the Home Office should have tackled him over his poor attendance if that was its concern.
Ukcosa chief executive Clive Saville said: "It is a rap over the knuckles for the Home Office for trying to get this student out through the back door.
"It also shows that a student's right to work does not depend on whether they happen to be studying at the same time. If you are between courses, for instance, it is legal to continue working. That is something we were not clear about before."