Press release

Government outlines major overhaul of student visas

Tougher entrance criteria and limits on work entitlements are among changes being made to the student visa system, announced by Theresa May.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

This announcement follows a major public consultation on the reform of Tier Four - the student entry route to the UK of the Points Based System - after a Home Office review revealed widespread abuse.

A sample of students studying at private institutions showed that 26 percent of them could not be accounted for.

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.’

As well as introducing a number of tightening measures, the government also pledged today to develop a new entrepreneur route for bright and innovative students who have a business idea and want to make it work in Britain.

The other main changes are as follows:

  • from April 2012 all institutions wanting to sponsor students will have to be classed as Highly Trusted Sponsors and become accredited by statutory education inspection bodies by the end of 2012; the current system does not require this and allowed too many poor quality colleges into the system
  • those coming to study at degree level will have to speak English at an upper intermediate (B2) level. This is a higher that the current B1 requirement
  • UK Border Agency staff will be able to refuse entry to students who cannot speak English without an interpreter and who therefore patently do not meet the required minimum standards
  • students at universities and publicly funded further education colleges will retain current work rights but all other students will have no right to work, and we will place restrictions on work placements at courses outside of universities
  • only postgraduate students at universities and government sponsored students will be allowed to bring their dependants. At the moment all students on longer courses are able to bring dependants
  • we will limit the overall time that can be spent on a student visa to three years at lower levels, as now, and five years at higher levels. At present there is no limit for study at or above degree level
  • closure of the Post Study Work route, which allowed students two years to seek employment after their course ended. Only those graduates who have an offer of a skilled job from a sponsoring employer, in Tier 2 of the Points-Based System, will be able to stay to work

Theresa May added: ‘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 ensure that innovative student entrepreneurs who are creating wealth are able to stay in the UK to pursue their ideas.’

The government has committed to reforming all routes of entry to the UK in order to bring immigration levels under control. The student changes will work alongside the annual limit on economic migration, and reforms to family and settlement routes planned for later this year.

Notes to editors

Previous Tier 4 and student visitor visa requirements can be found here -

B2 is upper intermediate level English, a more advance level of competency than B1 lower intermediate. B2 requires a learner to be able to converse on a wider range of topics. B2 equates to approximately 500-600 hours of study, compared to B1 which equates to 350-400 hours.

The Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) licence was introduced in April 2010. From April 2012, all education providers will have to be highly trusted (in other words demonstrate a proven track record of student retention and compliance), and must be inspected, reviewed or audited by Ofsted, or one of its devolved equivalents, the Quality Assurance Agency, the Independent Schools Inspectorate, the Bridge Schools Inspectorate or the Schools Inspection Service.

The Impact Assessment will be published when the rules are laid in Parliament on 31 March. 

Published 22 March 2011