UK Govt announces major overhaul of student visa system

Thursday, 24 March 2011 00:48 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The UK has a worldwide reputation for providing quality education to international students. Britain is the destination of choice for many people wishing to study abroad. 

In December the UK Government launched a consultation on the reform of the student immigration system. Late yesterday the Home Secretary announced to the UK Parliament the results of this extensive consultation process.


The outcome of the review heralds a new approach – one that not only minimises abuse of the student immigration system but also builds on the global reputation of the UK as a provider of high quality education.

Tougher entry criteria, limits on work entitlements and the closure of the post-study route were among the changes to the student visa system announced yesterday.

Home Secretary Theresa May said: “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.”

“But it has become very apparent that the old student visa regime failed to control immigration and failed to protect legitimate students from poor quality colleges. The changes I am announcing today re-focus the student route as a temporary one, available to only the brightest and best. The new system is designed to ensure students come for a limited period, to study not work, and make a positive contribution while they are here,” he added.

The main changes announced are as follows:

All UK education institutions that want to be sponsors will have to become Highly Trusted Sponsors by April 2012, and become accredited by statutory education inspection bodies by the end of 2012. The current system does not require this and has allowed too many poor quality colleges to become sponsors.

This change will allow universities, independent schools and public sector further education colleges to prosper under a revised student visa system. It will mean that the UK can continue to welcome high-quality international students.

In order to ensure only the brightest and the best students are accepted, a good standard of English is crucial. Those coming to study at degree level will have to speak English at an upper intermediate (B2) level of the Common European Framework of Reference. This is an increase from the current B1 level requirement.

UK Border Agency staff will be able to refuse entry to students who cannot speak English without an interpreter and who therefore do not meet the required minimum standard.

There will be new streamlined requirements for the lowest risk students to make the application process easier.

Students at universities and publicly funded further education colleges will retain current work rights, but all other students will no longer have the right to work. There will also be restrictions on work placements on courses provided by non-university sponsors.

Only postgraduate students at universities for longer than 12 months and government-sponsored students will be able to bring their dependants. These dependants will be able to work. At the moment all students on longer courses are able to bring dependants.

There will be a limit on the overall time that can be spent on a student visa in the UK: three years at levels below degree, as now, and five years at degree level and above. At present there is no limit for study at or above degree level.

In recognition of the important contribution they can make to the UK economy, new international graduates will be allowed to stay in the UK to take up skilled jobs. But the system where graduates are able to do any level of job, including unskilled work, or no job at all for two years will be ended. In future they will have to secure a skilled job with a Tier 2 sponsor. This will ensure that international graduates undertake work that is valuable to the UK and to them or return home.

“My aim is not to stop genuine students coming here – it is to eliminate abuse within the system. Our stricter accreditation process will see only first class education providers given licences to sponsor students. I am delighted to announce that alongside our stricter rules, we will implement a brand new route specifically to attract student entrepreneurs. We want to retain bright young people with innovative ideas particularly in fields like science, technology and design to help drive economic growth and productivity,” May added.

UK Border Agency Regional Director, Chris Dix said: “The changes announced yesterday will protect the interests of high quality Sri Lankan/Maldivian students wishing to study in the UK. These changes are however bad news for all those students, institutions and unscrupulous agents who have tried to abuse the student visa route.”

The changes will be introduced in stages over the next 12 months.