The UK’s Home Secretary, Theresa May announced changes last week to the UK’s student visa system, designed to offer greater protection for high quality international students and UK institutions alike.
May recognised the importance of welcoming international students to the UK, “International students not only make a vital contribution to the UK economy but they also help make our education system one of the best in the world.”
All UK education institutions that want to be sponsors of international students will have to become Highly Trusted Sponsors by April 2012, and become accredited by statutory education inspection bodies by the end of 2012. This will give international students and their parents peace of mind that they are applying to a bona fide institution, trusted and recognised by the UK government.
In order to be eligible for a Tier four student visa, students will need to demonstrate a higher level of English under the changes announced. Those coming to study at degree level and above will have to speak English at an upper intermediate (B2) level. This is higher than the current B1 requirement. B1 level will remain the requirement for courses below degree level and will need to be supported by a certificate from an approved English language test provider, e.g. IELTS. English language students wishing to attend exclusively English language courses will be able to apply for a student visitor visa allowing them to stay for up to 11 months.
Students at universities and publicly funded further education colleges will retain their rights to work part time alongside their studies, enabling them to gain valuable experience of business and industry (students at universities will be able to work 20 hours per week and 10 hours per week at publicly funded FE colleges). The changes will introduce restrictions on working and work placements for students not in universities or colleges.
Postgraduate students at universities and government sponsored students will still be able to bring their dependants with them to the UK during their studies and they will be permitted to work. Other students will not be permitted to bring their dependants.
The Post Study Work route will be closed from April 2012 - this route allowed new graduates two years to seek employment in the UK after their course ended. However, under the changes, graduates who have an offer of a skilled job from a sponsoring employer, in Tier two of the Points-Based System, will be able to work. Theresa May also announced a new initiative for any budding entrepreneurs: “alongside our stricter rules, we will ensure that innovative student entrepreneurs who are creating wealth are able to stay in the UK to pursue their ideas.”
Tony Reilly OBE, Director of the British Council in Sri Lanka, said: “The British Council welcomes the changes being made to the student visa system announced by Home Secretary Theresa May.
“Genuine international students bring immense value to the UK. They enhance our institutions academically, financially and culturally and many become lifelong friends and advocates for the UK when they return home. It is in the interests of the UK to continue to welcome genuine students from Sri Lanka and other countries around the world. Sri Lankan students are much sought after by UK universities. They are valued for their academic ability, English language skills and adaptability. They enrich our universities in so many tangible and intangible ways.
“The British Council supports an effective immigration policy that avoids any abuse of the student visa system. The new pledge that all institutions offering courses to international students must have accreditation and become highly trusted sponsors will give greater protection to bona fide students from Sri Lanka and will furthermore assure those students and their parents of the quality of UK education.
“It is essential that the changes being introduced do not prevent high calibre Sri Lankan students from coming to the UK to learn English prior to going on to study for degree courses. The UK government has recognised the importance of the pre-degree pathways that many international students access prior to undertaking their studies at UK universities.
“We welcome the assurances that students qualifying with a recognised degree who have the offer of a graduate level job will be able to remain in the UK and that sponsors can vouch for academic progression when students are doing follow-up courses. We particularly welcome new measures to ensure that innovative student entrepreneurs are able to stay in the UK to pursue their ideas. This is closely aligned to many of our programmes in Sri Lanka encouraging a culture of entrepreneurship.
“International students from Sri Lanka and elsewhere bring an extra dimension to the education experience of our own students and give them a perspective that will help them prosper in the global economy. These new visa measures should ensure that we continue to attract the best talent from around the world, including here in Sri Lanka and avoid a situation where students turn to other competitor countries. The UK remains the preferred study destination for many Sri Lankan students. I hope our special educational relationship continues to flourish.”