News story

Major changes to student visa system

Tougher criteria for people wanting to come to the UK to study and limits on their right to work are among major reforms announced today.

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

Following a Home Office review which revealed widespread abuse of the system, and a public consultation, major changes aim to tighten up the system and protect the brightest and best students.

Reforms were announced by Theresa May in parliament today.

Old system changed

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.’

What’s changing?

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 a higher level of English than now.

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 standards.

Work rights

Students at universities and publicly funded further education colleges will retain current work rights but all other students will have no right to work,

Restrictions will be placed on work placements at courses outside of universities.

The ‘post study work route’, which allowed students two years to seek employment after their course ended will close.

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

Meanwhile, only postgraduate students at universities and government sponsored students to be will be able to bring their family members with them.

At the moment all students on longer courses are able to bring dependants.

And the overall time that can be spent on a student visa will be limited to three years at lower levels, as now, and five years at higher levels. There is currently no limit for study at or above degree level.

Eliminating abuse

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.


Transcript for UK student visa system

Published 22 March 2011