Previously the coalition government made it difficult for the Conservative party to put in place many of the changes to immigration control that it would have liked to have implemented. This e-briefing gives an insight into the likely changes that the new government could bring into force and the effect they may have on education institutions.

The manifesto makes clear that the aim is to reform the student visa system with new measures to tackle abuse and reduce the number of students overstaying once their visas expire. Action will include clamping down on the number of ‘satellite campuses’ opened in London by universities located elsewhere in the UK, and reviewing the Tier 4 Sponsor Status system. There will be tighter exit checks which will result in more responsibility being placed on institutions in respect of migrants who overstay, and targeted sanctions for those institutions that fail to ensure that migrants comply with the terms of their visa.

A reformed visa system for students

The statistics presented by the Home Secretary, Teresa May, earlier this year showed that the UK accepted 121,000 students from outside Europe to study in Britain each year, but only 51,000 left. The majority of the remaining students will have remained lawfully but the Home Secretary has used the statistics to paint a rather bleak picture, suggesting that she will continue to tackle student migration numbers. 

The manifesto makes specific reference to reforming the student visa system so that students do not remain in the UK once their student visa has expired. It is not clear how the government intend to police this but it is most likely that the onus will be on the institutions to closely monitor the expiry dates of their international students’ visas and to take steps to inform their students to leave the country on expiry of their visa. It is not clear what the “targeted sanctions” could be for an institution’s non-compliance, but licence suspension/fines will surely be the first steps taken, with possible revocation for any serious issues of non-compliance. 

In preparation for the additional responsibility that could be placed on sponsors it would be good practice to ensure that international student documentation includes a clear statement explaining that students are responsible for notifying their sponsor of their visa expiry date and know to leave the country following expiry of their visa. It may also be prudent, if not already in place, to put a link to the relevant UKVI pages on the institution’s website to reinforce the point at an early stage, that migrant students must return home once their student visa expires, unless they have some other valid means of remaining in the UK. 

The future of “satellite campuses”

The fact that the manifesto concentrates on clamping down on “satellite campuses” suggests that the Home Secretary will continue to focus on both private and taxpayer-funded universities which have campuses in London. Any institutions with a campus in London should therefore make absolutely sure that they are fully compliant with their sponsor licence obligations, as UKVI are likely to target for audit those institutions first.   

Summary

It is not yet clear how much responsibility will be placed on education institutions to monitor even closer the immigration status of their students to ensure compliance with visa requirements and leave on expiry of visa, however, significant changes to Tier 4 can be expected over the coming months. The full extent of the impact of these changes will not become clear until the Tier 4 Sponsor Guidance is updated in light of the government’s agenda to implement more control over immigration.