New Student Visa Route Announced – Post Brexit Overhaul of Tier 4
The Statement of Changes HC707 published yesterday, brings the new Student Route of the new points-based immigration system into effect from 5 October 2020. The new Student Route heralds the dawn of the Government’s intention to create one immigration system that applies equally to all individuals coming to the UK to study, including EEA nationals.
End of Free Movement
Replacing the current Tier 4 visa route, the biggest change is that EEA nationals will be required to meet the same requirements to study within the UK as non-EEA nationals. For EEA nationals, the new Student Route will come into force for applications made in the UK on or after 1 January 2021 and for applications from overseas where the course start date is 1 January 2021 or later.
EEA students resident in the UK on or before 31 December 2020 should not use the Student Route and are eligible to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme and have until 30 June 2021 to do so.
Key Changes to the Student Route
The Government promised a more streamlined and simplified student visa application process, a necessity given the end of free movement makes thousands more individuals subject to the Immigration Rules.
Other key differences between the new Student Route and the current Tier 4 system are summarised below, with many of the changes seeking to fulfil the promise of a ‘new and improved’ Student route:
The terminology of the Student visa rules will change and become more user friendly: ‘Tier 4 (General)’ becomes ‘Student’ and ‘Tier 4 (Child)’ becomes ‘Child Student’. A ‘Tier 4 sponsor licence’ will become ‘Student Sponsor licence’.
For example, an independent school that does not yet hold a sponsor licence to enrol non UK students will now need to apply to the Home Office for a ‘Student Sponsor Licence’ to sponsor ‘Child Students’.
‘Leave to enter/stay’ also becomes ‘permission to stay/enter’ and ‘maintenance’ becomes ‘finance.’
· 70 Points Requirement
Instead of 40 points, individuals wishing to study in the UK will need to meet a new 70 points requirement. This can be demonstrated by:
- Having an offer from an approved education institution
- Being able to speak English to the required level
- Able to support themselves during their studies in the UK
· Timing of Applications
Students and Child students applicants overseas will now be able to apply for permission to enter up to 6 months before their course start date (the current requirement is 3 months). Permission to stay applications must still be made up to 3 months before the course start date with the same requirement that there must be no more than 28 days between the end of the applicant’s current permission and the course start date on the CAS.
· Switching/Extending Student Visas in the UK
The Rules will allow more applicants to apply from within the UK for a Student or Child Student visa. There will only be limited categories of people who cannot apply in the UK including Visitors, Short Term Student visa holders and Parent of a Child Students.
Unlike the previous Tier 4 rules, which prevented certain Tier 4 students from making an application from within the UK, anyone else can apply from within the UK. The Rules do confirm, however, that the academic progression rule will still be a requirement for a Student applicant who previously had a Tier 4 visa.
Another significant change is that there will be no finance (previously known as ‘maintenance’) requirement for permission to stay applications provided an applicant can show that they have been in the UK for at least 12 months when they apply. This means that Student and Child students applying from within the UK will no longer have to submit financial evidence with their visa applications where they hold UK immigration permission (of any type) for at least 12 months on the date of the application.
All overseas entry clearance applicants and other permission to stay applicants will still need to meet the same strict financial requirements of the current Tier 4 visa system. In positive news for students and their advisers, there is more flexibility around meeting the financial requirement, including being able to rely on a wider range of accounts and electronic bank statements.
· English Language Requirements
Students will only be required to prove the required level of English to the Home Office once - so applicants who have met the requirement in a previous application is a new way to meet the English language requirement.
Ireland and Malta will be added to the list of majority English speaking countries. The current exemption for Tier 4 (Child) students who have passed a course that was at least 6 months long, however, will be removed. It is being replaced by a provision to allow applicants who have gained GCSE/A Level or Scottish Highers in English - provided the qualification was gain whilst at school in the UK and they were under the age of 18.
· Evidence and Differentiation Arrangements
EEA and Swiss nationals will be added to the list of countries whose nationals benefit from easier, ‘light touch’ documentary evidence requirements, with no requirement to submit with their visa applications financial evidence or educational qualifications. Other nationalities on Appendix H (now in Appendix ST) will remain the same.
Students sponsored by a higher education provider with a track record of compliance to study at degree level or above will also not be required to provide evidence of qualifications or references.
· Study Limits and Academic Progress
Study cap limits will be removed for postgraduate courses (RQF Level 7+) but the other study caps will remain (for instance, 2 years for below degree level study). The 11 month concessions, however, for below degree level and degree level courses have not been included in the new Student Route.
The academic progression rule will remain in place so Students applying for permission to stay from within the UK will still need to show they are progressing academically if you wish to study a further course in the UK.
In other planned changes, a new ‘academic engagement’ policy will replace attendance monitoring for sponsored students at degree level or above. There will also be a new safeguarding requirement introduced for all sponsors of international students under the age of 18.
Whilst further policy guidance is awaited regarding the new Student route, sponsoring institutions and student visa applicants can only hope that the UK’s ‘new and improved’ student route lives up to expectations.
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.