In a recent update to the Visit Guidance, UKVI has introduced a concession for those studying whilst on long-term visit visas. Previously, any visitors who intended to come to the UK in order to study would have to have their visitor leave cancelled in order to obtain a short-term study visa instead, as it is not possible for an individual to be granted two types of leave at the same time. A visitor visa is not the right visa for an individual intending to study in the UK.
After months of lobbying by the UK Council for International Student Affairs ('UKCISA'), the Home Office confirmed that it would be introducing a concession to allow holders of long-term visit visas to "occasionally be permitted to enter for the main purpose of study". This took effect on 5 January 2017 and includes the following provisions:
- A person who holds a long-term, multiple-entry visit visa who wishes to occasionally come to the UK solely to study for a short period of time, may be permitted to do so as long the course or period of study does not exceed 30 days at any one time and, unless it is a recreational course, takes places at an accredited institution.
- Such visitors are permitted to study for a maximum period of 30 days, provided study is not the main purpose for holding the long-term visit visa.
- The time spent studying in the UK must not exceed the time spent carrying out other permitted activities under the long-term visit visa.
If evidence becomes available that the visits are not mainly for other permitted visitor activities, and an example may be if there are frequent visits to the UK for the purpose of study, the visitor visa can be cancelled and the visitor entry refused.
This is good news for education institutions who can recruit international candidates for short-term or part-time courses on the basis of their long-term, multiple entry visit visas, provided they comply with the above requirements. Whilst no specific sponsor duty to report will arise, it is important to be mindful of whether students could be in breach of the Immigration Rules by exceeding 30 days of study at any one time or spending more time in the UK studying under the long-term visit visa rather than carrying out other permitted activities. This may be easy for the institution to assess if the individual has made a number of previous visits under the long-term visit visa and spent the majority of their time on non-study permitted activities. It may, however, be more difficult to assess if the individual has not previously visited the UK under their long-term visit visa or has only done so briefly. Issues may arise if the institution is a sponsor licence holder and it is found that they have permitted a person to study in breach of their visa requirements, as this could negatively impact on the sponsor licence.
Whilst this amendment is included in the most recent version of the Visit Guidance, it is yet to be reflected in the Immigration Rules which currently states that a visitor may study in the UK 'provided that the main purpose of the visit is not to study' (Paragraph 25, Visitors Appendix 3). Our advice is that it is sufficient to rely on the new Visit Guidance and we expect the Immigration Rules to be updated in due course.
It should be noted that this exception does not apply to holders of single entry visit visas and to non-visa nationals applying for leave to enter as a visitor at the border. For such persons, study must not be the main or sole purpose of the visit.