Universities call for end to UK’s ‘subjective’ visa decisions

MillionPlus wants end to judging visa applicants on which university they plan to attend, to ‘credibility interviews’ and to 10 per cent refusal rate threshold

March 13, 2019
Judgement

The UK government should stop judging overseas student applicants on the university they plan to attend, end the use of “credibility interviews” and scrap the 10 per cent visa refusal threshold for individual universities, according to MillionPlus.

The association of modern universities outlines a series of proposed changes to the Tier 4 student visa regime in a policy paper, arguing that “with the sector and government working in genuine partnership with a common goal” it would be “much easier to invest in and grow overseas student numbers coming to the UK”.

Critics of the Home Office’s student visa regime have argued that applicants to post-92 universities are more likely to have their visa applications rejected than those who seek places at more traditional institutions.

The current system “does not deliver for the UK: it is unduly subjective, inequitable, and can act as a non-tariff barrier to trade in educational exports”, says the MillionPlus paper, published on 13 March.

The first proposed change would see the introduction of new out-of-country provisional visas, issued by UK Visas and Immigration before a prospective student applies to their chosen university. At present, applicants first apply to a university before they are referred to UKVI.

In the second proposed change, MillionPlus calls for the phasing-out of credibility interviews for visa applicants, which it says are “the main element of the current process that is most open to subjectivity” and have “seen the most arbitrary and egregious decision[s]”.

And in the third proposed change, the group says that the current visa refusal rate threshold – under which universities lose their licence to sponsor overseas students if more than 10 per cent of their overseas applicants are refused a visa – should be abandoned.

“With the removal of interviews and the 10 per cent threshold, therefore, we are proposing that a context-based approach, involving greater dialogue between all parties concerned, would serve as a far better measure of compliance than a 10 per cent threshold,” MillionPlus says.

Under its proposed system, “a university would meet at pre-set intervals with UKVI to provide information on compliance and would be assessed on all necessary measures (be they refusal rate, enrolment rate, completion rates etc) in a more holistic and rounded way, which would put context and planning at the heart of the system”, the group adds.

Greg Walker, MillionPlus chief executive, said: “International students contribute to the vibrancy and diversity of our campuses, support tens of thousands of jobs and generate £26 billion for Britain’s economy. Politicians and the public are united in agreement that international students have a huge positive impact on the UK in many respects, something confirmed by the recent Migration Advisory Committee report.

“But rather than helping enable that growth, the current Tier 4 student visa system merely hampers it with smothering bureaucracy and over-reliance on credibility interviews that hinge on the subjectivity of UKVI and Home Office processes. These problems hit some universities more than others. This cannot be right: a reboot of the system is much needed.”

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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