Press release

Student visa system changes - cutting abuse and raising standards

Tough new rules and enforcement action to stop abuse of the student visa system mean that more than 450 education providers will no longer be able to sponsor new international students.

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

In total these colleges could have brought more than 11,000 students into the UK to study each year.

New UK Border Agency regulations have significantly raised the standards education providers must meet before they can bring international students to the UK.  So far, more than 400 colleges have lost their right to recruit international students after they failed to sign up for the new inspection system.  As well as cutting abuse, the new standards will help ensure that genuine international students receive the highest quality education.

In addition, a targeted UK Border Agency investigation into more than 100 colleges has led to 51 having their licences revoked. The investigation followed a spike in applications from South Asia just before the English language requirement rules were tightened. More than 4,500 of these applications to study have been refused or withdrawn as a result.

One college advertised classes even though the website said it was shut for maintenance, while another could not even produce a list of students enrolled or a timetable of classes. On inspection, others could not produce any records of student attendance, or evidence of checking student qualifications.

Immigration Minister Damian Green said:

‘Widespread abuse of the student visa system has gone on for too long and the changes we have made are beginning to bite.

‘Too many institutions were offering international students an immigration service rather than an education and too many students have come to the
UK with the aim of getting work and bringing over family members. Only
first-class education providers should be given licences to sponsor
international students.

‘We have curbed the opportunities to work during study and bring in
family members. We have also introduced new language requirements to ensure we only attract genuine students whose primary motivation is to study.’

As well as going through tough new inspections, colleges that want to keep bringing in international students must also meet new higher sponsorship standards to ensure they are fulfilling their immigration responsibilities.  Those who do not meet these standards will be removed from the sponsorship register.

The UK Border Agency has also created a list of more than 2,000 banks and financial institutions that can no longer provide evidence to verify a student has sufficient funds for their course. If a bank is on the list, a student citing that institution will not be granted a visa.

Further measures to tighten student visa rules are due in April. The post study work route, which has allowed graduates free labour market access, will be closed and students wishing to stay and work will need to apply under the skilled worker visa route. There will also be new time limits on student visas and tougher rules on work placements.  The UK Border Agency will continue to monitor the behaviour of all sponsors and will take action against any that are not complying with standards of education provision or immigration control.

The changes to the student route form part of the Government’s comprehensive package to overhaul the immigration system, taking action on families, settlement, those coming here to work, as well as students, in order to bring immigration levels back down to sustainable levels.

Notes to editors

1. The student reforms were announced in Parliament by the Home Secretary on 22 March:

  • the first set of changes came into effect on 21 April, including tougher sponsor requirements and English language requirements for students
  • the second set of changes came into effect on 4 July, including new rules on the ability of students to work and bring dependants.
  1.  A key part of the reforms was also to strengthen the conditions which an education provider has to satisfy before they are allowed by the UK Border Agency to ‘sponsor’ an international student to study in the UK. This involves the oversight of their education provision (educational oversight) and their compliance with immigration requirements (highly trusted sponsor status).Deadlines to apply for educational oversight and highly trusted sponsor status were on 9 September and 9 October respectively.  Those education providers who did not apply in time have had their ability to sponsor international students restricted or revoked.

3. Students represent almost two thirds of the non-EU migrants entering the UK each year.  In the 12 months to the end of June this year, 304,548 student visas were issued (of which 271,206 were main applicants and 33,342 were dependants), 136,018 student visa extensions were issued (of which 116,602 main applicants and 19,416 dependants).

  1.  Ahead of the introduction of tough new language requirements for international students, the UK Border Agency saw a sharp rise in applications from South Asia. Immediate action was taken by investigating over 119 colleges of concern, and carrying out further checks on the applications linked to them. Out of 119 colleges:
  • 51 had their licences revoked
  • 3 had their licences suspended
  • 9  had their rating re-rated
  • 45  were found to be compliant
  • 11 are subject to further considerations
Published 2 November 2011