Press release

Government sets out proposals for major reform of the student visa system

Tougher entrance criteria, limits on work and an end to students staying in the UK to look for a job are just some of the proposed changes.

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

Tougher entrance criteria, limits on work and an end to students staying in the UK to look for a job are just some of the changes proposed by Immigration Minister Damian Green today as part of a shake-up of the student visa system.

Launching a public consultation on the reform of the student entry route to the UK of the Points Based System - the Home Office also revealed that 41 percent of students coming through this route were studying below degree level courses.

Immigration minister Damian Green said: ‘I believe attracting talented students from abroad is vital to the UK but we must be more selective about who can come here and how long they can stay.

‘People imagine students to be those who come here for a few years to study at university and then go home - that is not always the case. Too many students coming to study at below degree level have been coming here to live and work, rather than studying. We need to stop this abuse.

‘Today’s proposals follow a major review of the system, and are aimed at a more selective system and, crucially, reducing the numbers to meet our target of reducing net migration to sustainable levels.’

The consultation will run for eight weeks, seeking views on a range of measures to reduce the number of students that can come into the UK.

Proposals include:

  • reducing the number of people coming to the UK to study at below degree level
  • introducing a tougher English language requirement
  • ensuring students wishing to extend their studies show evidence of academic progression
  • limiting students’ entitlements to work and their ability to bring in dependants
  • improving the accreditation process for education providers, alongside more rigorous inspections

The government has committed to making changes across the immigration system to achieve its overall aim of reducing net migration, in addition to the introduction of an annual limit on workers from outside the EU. The student route accounts for two thirds of migrants entering the UK each year which is why it is a key focus for reform.

Damian Green added: ‘This government wants high calibre students with the genuine desire to study to come to our country to come for temporary periods, and then return home. We want to hear views of our proposals from a wide range of people so that our reforms meet this objective.’

The new proposals could see tier four - students coming to the UK under the - points based system - restricted to those studying largely degree level courses and to child students, unless the institution is a highly trusted sponsor. English language competence could become the key indicator of someone’s eligibility to complete a higher level course and all tier four applicants will have to pass a secure English language test showing competence at intermediary level B2, a step up from the B1 currently required.

The drive to ensure students return overseas after their course finishes will mean students will have to leave the UK and apply for a new visa to further their studies, and show evidence of progression to a higher course. It will also see the closure of the post-study route under tier one.

In addition, the government will be looking at ways to improve the inspection and accreditation of the education sector, to ensure the courses offered by private institutions of further and higher education are of the highest quality.

Notes to editors

1. The full consultation document ‘The Student Immigration System: A Consultation’ is available on the UK Border Agency website

2. The closing date for the consultation is 31 January 2011.

3. The research report ‘Overseas students in the immigration system: types of institution and levels of study’ is available on the UK Border Agency website.

4. Current Tier Four and student visitor visa requirements can be found on the UK Border Agency website.

  1. 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, whereas B1 level is more focused on understanding public announcements and instructions. B2 equates to approximately 500-600 hours of study, compared to B1 which equates to 350-400 hours.

  2. The Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) licence was introduced in April 2010. Only education providers with a proven track record of student retention and compliance can qualify for a HTS licence. 

Published 7 December 2010