Following the election of a small majority Conservative government, immigration and reducing the net migration figures remains at the forefront of the government’s agenda with the Prime Minister chairing the immigration taskforce himself. While the government continues the rhetoric that there is no cap on student numbers, the impact of the proposed changes will undoubtedly reduce the number of international students wanting to study at UK institutions with the further education sector particularly affected.

The following amendments to the Immigration Rules to the latest Statement of Changes were put before Parliament on Monday 13 July: 

FROM 14 JULY 2015

  • Changes have been made to allow a Tier 4 visa to be issued in line with a student’s intended date of travel. This change to the date from which entry clearance can commence and was introduced to help ensure a smooth roll-out of Biometric Residence Permits for overseas Tier 4 applicants. 

FROM 3 AUGUST 2015

  • The rules around academic progression for Tier 4 General students will be tightened so that only those sponsored by a UK recognised body or a body in receipt of public funding as a university will be permitted to start a new course at the same academic level as their previous course. This is also only possible if the course they wish to study is linked to their previous course or the sponsor confirms that the course supports the student’s career aspirations. Students may be interviewed and sanctions will be imposed on sponsors who get this wrong. 
  • Further education providers will no longer be able to sponsor students who wish to study a course at the same level as their previous course. 
  • The time limit for calculating time spent in the UK whether above or below degree level will now include the full length of the leave the student has previously been granted (as opposed to the course duration). For example, students are currently able to exclude the four months’ extra time they are granted at the end of their degree course but this will no longer be possible.   
  • In respect of the Tier 4 Child category, those who wish to study a foundation course to prepare for entry to higher education will be prevented from doing so under this route. In addition, Tier 4 Child students will no longer be able to undertake a further course at a lower level. The rules will be clarified to specify that only independent schools can sponsor students under this route. 
  • Tier 4 migrants’ conditions of study are being changed to prevent them from studying at academies or schools maintained by a local authority. 
  • An administrative review application will be treated as withdrawn if migrants lodge a fresh entry clearance/leave to remain application. 
  • Work rights for Tier 4 students at publicly funded colleges will be removed. 

FROM 12 NOVEMBER 2015

  • Tier 4 (General) students at further education colleges will be unable to extend their stay from within the UK unless they will be studying at an embedded college which has been recognised by UKVI as having a direct link to a UK recognised body or a body in receipt of public funding as a university. 
  • Tier 4 (General) students at further education colleges will be unable to switch into any economic route such as Tier 2 from within the UK unless they are studying at an embedded college which has been recognised by UKVI as having a direct link to a UK recognised body or a body in receipt of public funding as a university. However, those studying at such an embedded college will not be able to switch into Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur or Tier 5 (Temporary Worker) category. 
  • The time limit on study below degree level will be reduced from three to two years. 
  • The maintenance requirement for Tier 4 students will increase, along with the maximum amount paid for accommodation which can be offset against the maintenance requirement, to bring them in line with 2015 rates. The geographic area in which Tier 4 students have to demonstrate a higher level of funds will also be expanded.  
  • The rule around established presence which allows students applying to extend their leave within the UK to show only two months’ maintenance will be removed. All students will therefore need to show that they have sufficient funds to support themselves throughout the duration of their remaining study or for up to nine months. 

Other proposed changes for autumn:

  • Tier 4 dependants will only be able to undertake work at skilled level. 

In summary, the UK government is expecting international students to either: 

  • Enter the UK as a Tier 4 Child studying at an independent school and progress onto a university or a UKVI recognised embedded college; or
  • Enter the UK as a Tier 4 General student to study either at a UKVI recognised embedded college or a University. 

International students who opt to study at a further education college can do so but will not be able to extend or switch their stay while in the UK. 

There is no clear evidence indicating why the government felt it necessary to introduce such damaging changes. UKVI issues sponsor licenses and it is UKVI’s role to monitor licence holders and take action when necessary. The changes cut off a whole sector of further education whose students progress onto universities. This is seen by the sector as causing long-term harm to the UK as an international student destination. 

These changes coupled with the maintenance changes means the UK’s international education system will only be available to the brightest, the best and the richest.