The Government has recently announced proposals for tighter rules for international students hoping to come into the UK to study, and for the colleges and universities hosting them.
The proposals form part of the Government’s introduction of the “student” tier of its points-based immigration system. It is thought that the rules relating to students (Tier 4) will come into force in spring 2009.
The aim of the new rules is to allow good students who are likely to benefit the UK in the long term to enter the UK, but to make it harder for bogus students wishing to gain entry and/or bogus educational institutions to operate. Consequently, the criteria that international students from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) must meet will be much more stringent than ever before, as are the obligations on educational institutions to take a leading role in the Government’s drive to prevent illegal immigration into the UK.
What will international students have to do to study in the UK?
1. Every student needs a licensed sponsor
All international students hoping to study in the UK will have to be sponsored by a UK Border Agency (UKBA) licensed educational institution. The sponsor will be the educational institution that has accepted the student(s) onto a course of study. Students will be unable to apply for a visa without confirmation of acceptance from the educational institution. In an attempt by the Government to help protect the UK labour market, all students applying for a visa must also ensure that the course for which they are applying is at least at National Qualifications Framework Level 3.
2. All students over 16 must prove they have the means to support themselves and their family
All international students wishing to come to the UK for their post-16 education will have to be able to support themselves and any dependants whilst they are living in the UK.
3. Every student must be fingerprinted and obtain a biometric identity card
The UKBA will check and record the fingerprints of all international students. In addition, before entering the UK to study, all students will be required to obtain a biometric identity card so that the authorities are aware of who they are and what they are entitled to do in the UK, such as work or study. International students will also have to show a proven track record of study before coming to the UK.
What will this mean for educational institutions?
All educational institutions wishing to recruit students from outside the EEA will have to hold a valid UKBA license. To get a license, educational institutions must show that they have been inspected or audited by, or hold valid accreditation from, one of the UKBA-approved accreditation bodies. This licensing process will replace the current Department for Innovation Universities and Skills Register of Education and Training Providers, which is the current register that educational institutions must sign up to in order to recruit international students.
The new UKBA licenses will be tougher to obtain than previous requirements on educational institutions. In future, educational institutions will be asked to provide more information and documentation than has been required in the past.
The tougher rules will also mean that more checks will be carried out by the UKBA to ensure that students actually study once they have arrived in the UK.
What should educational institutions do next?
Educational institutions that are seeking to teach international students must sign up to the sponsorship register on the UKBA website and should do so now. The duration of the license will begin when Tier 4 opens next spring and not when the license is approved.
Diane Gilhooley is HR expert in the education team at Eversheds.