UKBA reimposes language restrictions on foreign applicants

The UK Border Agency has reintroduced language restrictions on overseas students applying for visas, a move that could have knock-on effects for universities.

July 27, 2010

As of 23 July, overseas students studying on English language courses below the degree level must have the equivalent of a high-level GCSE in English.

The UKBA moved to reintroduce the rule for the Tier 4 student-immigration system after it was overturned three weeks ago by a judicial review brought by English UK, which represents English language colleges.

The review said that the initial change had not been introduced correctly via parliamentary review, but the UKBA has now moved to alter the policy formally.

The agency said it would introduce a system of secure English language tests from 12 August.

Pre-sessional courses in English linked to university study are exempt from the language requirement, but critics have warned that the academy could still be affected.

Tony Millns, chief executive of English UK, said: “Universities UK estimates that 46 per cent of international students in UK higher education come from courses they are already attending in the UK, and that is far more than are on pure pre-sessionals, so there will be a knock-on effect.”

Mr Millns added that a delegation of MPs and members of English UK met Damian Green, the immigration minister, yesterday to discuss the issue.

“At a meeting with us in the House of Commons on 3 March, [Mr Green] said that a Conservative administration would not continue with this minimum level of English language requirement,” Mr Millns said.

The restriction was introduced as part of the previous government’s crackdown on economic migrants abusing the student-visa system.

There was more positive news for the sector as the UKBA lifted visa suspensions that were imposed on entire countries and regions where there were suspicions of widespread fraudulent applications.

Students from Bangladesh and Nepal will now be allowed to apply to UK universities after the visa suspension for foundation, undergraduate and postgraduate courses was lifted.

On 12 August, the UKBA will lift the wider suspensions affecting those countries and northern India, but all the restrictions on southern China will remain in place.

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