New Home Office Proposals to Tackle Student Visa Abuse

6 mins

Posted on 29 May 2024

New Home Office Proposals to Tackle Student Visa Abuse

Hot on the heels of the General Election announcement, the Home Office announced new proposals last week to crackdown on ‘abuse’ of the Student Visa route. Depending on the political outcome on 4th July 2024, sponsors of international students may need to brace themselves for yet further changes to the Student Visa rules together with tougher new compliance standards and sponsor duties.

Forming part of the Home Office’s ongoing efforts to curb net migration, the new measures are aimed at ensuring only ‘genuine students’ can come to the UK – and draw on some of the recent findings of the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) Rapid Review of the Graduate Visa Route published on 14th May 2024.

The international student sector welcomed the MAC’s recommendation to retain the Graduate Visa Route in its current form. Recognising the value of the post study work visa route to the UK’s ability to attract international students, MAC’s report also confirmed there was no evidence of any significant abuse of the Graduate Route.

The Home Office has indicated it will adopt the MAC’s recommendation to retain the Graduate Visa Route in its current form which is promising. However, the Home Office further confirmed that the retention of this popular post study work route comes alongside a package of reforms aimed at tackling “student visa abuse”.

One of MAC’s recommendations following its review of the Graduate Visa Route was greater regulation of international student recruitment agents to reduce poor and misleading agent practices. In line with the MAC’s recommendations, the Home Office proposals therefore include:

  • Establish a mandatory registration scheme for agents: All higher education institutions which use recruitment agents must work within the new Agent Quality Framework ‘by summer 2024’. The Home Office has stated that data monitoring arrangements will be agreed by early 2025. The new UK Agent Quality Framework, developed by the British Council and the British Universities International Liaison Association, includes a range of guidance and quality assurance tools to enhance the quality of agents practices.
  • Compel universities to publish information on the extent to which they use international recruitment agents and the numbers of international students recruited: This measure is designed to increase transparency on the use of agents and money spent on recruitment fees.
  • Introduce a requirement for universities to provide the Home Office with a confirmation of course outcome on the Student route: This is likely to mean student sponsors would have to report the class of degree achieved by the sponsored student, in addition to confirmation that a course has been successfully completed, as currently required.

Although not specifically recommended in the MAC Report, the Home Office announced other proposals which, if implemented, would have a significant impact on both student sponsors and international students choosing to study in the UK. These proposals include:

  • Review Basic Compliance Assessment with a view to increases to thresholds ‘by Autumn 2024’: This would mean tougher compliance standards to retain an education provider’s student sponsor status on an annual basis. Currently, sponsors of international students must have a visa refusal rate of less than 10 per cent; an enrolment rate of at least 90% and a course completion rate of at least 85%. Any increase to these metrics could mean more student sponsors risk losing their sponsor licence and ability to recruit international students.
  • Raise the financial maintenance requirements for Student Visa applications: The Home Office has said it will increase the requirement ‘from January 2025’ in line with domestic maintenance loans. Currently, student visa applicants need to show enough money to pay for their course as well as a fixed amount per month for their UK living costs up to a maximum of 9 months (currently set at £1334 if studying in London or £1023 if studying outside London). Student sponsors would need to ensure that applicants are aware of any increases to the financial requirement, checking bank statements where possible before assigning a CAS, to avoid visa refusals on financial grounds. The Home Office has also proposed that UK Visas and Immigration will be granted additional powers to investigate the provenance of maintenance funds.
  • Review English language standards. The Home Office has announced that it will review how Higher Education Providers with a Track Record of Compliance assess English Language ability for international students enrolling from summer 2024. Although the Home Office has confirmed to the international education sector that there are no plans to amend the CEFR English Language standard for Student Visa applicants (currently B2 Level for degree level courses), student sponsors should continue to expect their ‘self assessment’ of a student’s English language ability to be an area of scrutiny at Home Office Compliance Visits.
  • Ensure face to face teaching is the predominant method of delivery. The Home Office has been consulting with the sector on a remote delivery policy further to the withdrawal in June 2022 of the Covid 19 related concessions which had exceptionally allowed course delivery to take place online. The latest draft Home Office policy states that remote delivery will permitted on courses at degree level and above at sponsors which are Higher Education Providers with a Track Record of Compliance – provided that face to face teaching remains the predominant method of delivery to international students. The Home Office has recently confirmed to the sector that the remote delivery policy will be introduced via a ‘soft launch’ in September 2024 with full implementation by September 2025.

The latest Home Office proposals remain in stark contrast to the stated ambition of the Government’s International Education Strategy to increase the total number of international students choosing to study in the UK higher education system each year to 600,000, by 2030. With the announcement of the General Election and the imminent dissolution of Parliament, however, it remains to be seen whether these latest Home Office proposals will actually become new legislation and student sponsor policy guidance. What is certain is that the international student sector must continue to brace itself for further changes whatever the political outcome on 4th July 2024.

Please get in touch with Anna Blackden, Senior Associate who will be more than happy to advise you further in relation to proposed changes in the UK Immigration Rules and how they may impact your education institution.

Malini Skandachanmugarasan

Malini has specialised in immigration law for well over a decade and is one of the UK's leading immigration experts.

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Anna Blackden

Based in the City office, Anna is a highly experienced immigration lawyer advising employers, education institutions and private individuals in the areas of personal immigration (including family routes and human rights), Student (including Child Student) and Work (including Creative and Skilled Worker) visa routes and sponsorship.

  • Senior Associate
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The articles published on this website, current at the date of publication, are for reference purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your own circumstances should always be sought separately before taking any action.

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