Change and Concern for UK Student Visas and Migration
The UK government under Theresa May has made changes in recent years to student visa rules as part of a wider strategy to reduce immigration within the UK. Theresa May has been extensively criticized for including international students in immigration figures. Brexit and the planned new immigration strategy for the UK, as part of the Brexit deal, is also likely to affect both EU and Non-EU students considering studying in the UK.
What are the UK visa criteria for International or Non-EU students?
Non-EU International students must meet certain criteria to study in the UK and must obtain a Tier 4 (General) Student Visa.
To apply for a Tier 4 (General) Student Visa you must:
- have been offered a place on a course with a licensed Tier 4 sponsor
- be able to speak, read, write and understand English
- be able to support yourself financially, and pay for your course
- be from a non-EEA country or Switzerland
- apply no sooner than 3 months prior to the start of your course
Tier 4 Student Visas are usually decided quickly, often within 3 weeks, and currently cost £335. There are additional fees for dependents, and a healthcare surcharge for you, and any dependents. There are rules about dependents, the type of course, the institution you are studying with, work and access to public services.
After you graduate, if you are considering taking a permanent job in the UK, to do so you would need to move to a Tier 2 Visa with an eligible employer and role.
What are the criteria for EU citizens wanting to study in the UK
EU citizens are currently free to study in the UK with the same criteria as other EU citizens visiting, working and living in Britain. They can take advantage of a cap on tuition fees, and tuition fee loans in the same way as UK students. Non-EU students do not have these advantages.
In April 2017, the government confirmed EU students applying for university places in the 2018-2019 academic year will remain eligible for financial support. The financial support comes in terms of the fee caps, loans, and grants available and would be valid for the period of study even if that continues, and ends, after the Brexit break. There are certain criteria for eligibility to financial benefits, depending on the length of time students have lived in either the UK or EEA.
What happens for potential EU students after the 2018-2019 intake remains to be decided. Students beginning their studies after the 2018-2019 period may be subject to the post-Brexit immigration changes, and policy, which have yet to be created.
What do the statistics say? Originating countries of students studying in the UK.
The Higher Education Statistics Agency’s latest figures on International student statistics were released in January 2017 for the year 2015-2016. The complete figures can be found here:
Of the figures, in the order greatest first, the top ten EU sending countries were: Germany, France, Italy, the Republic of Ireland, Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Romania, Bulgaria and lastly Poland. For non-EU students, again greatest first, the top ten reads: China, Malaysia, the USA, India, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Thailand and Canada.
Britain has always been a first choice for many international students, however less welcoming government policies, Brexit, and the threat of stricter immigration rules means that many students are looking elsewhere. America, Canada and Australia are popular destinations. Though the USA is falling in popularity under the Donald Trump presidency.
By December 2015 the number of non-EU student arrivals had fallen to a nine-year low of 167,000. Thought provokingly, the estimated figures are that international students add £7 billion per year to the UK economy. Not to mention the benefits to UK industry of attracting the world’s top talent within reach of employer’s skill shortages.
UK PM Theresa May draws criticism as actual figures for student visa over stayers are released.
Theresa May has been determined to include foreign students in the government immigration figures and planned reductions. The UK government, in explaining the reasoning behind this, seems to have overestimated the number of students who illegally overstay their student visas. Estimates for years prior to 2016 were close to 100,000. Actual figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for 2016 showed that just 4,600 students overstayed their visas.
Those opposing Theresa May believe students should be excluded from the immigration figures and targets, as most return home after studying. They also believe the benefits of international students, both whilst they are studying and when they reach industry, whether in the UK or not, far outweigh any concerns.
Some wonder if the damage to the UK economy and its universities has been done as total immigration figures post Brexit have halved.
Should applicants expect problems in obtaining a student visa in the UK?
Generally, the UK application and visa process is known to be a positive experience. Conversely, there have been recent reports of International students finding their UK student visa application problematic.
Study International broke a story on September 5th of unexpected visa delays for students from Hong Kong. Actual figures are undetermined but comments from lawyers and the British consulate in Hong Kong indicate hundreds of students may have been affected by late granting of their visas. Though UK universities have been accommodating, some students missed important first classes.
Earlier this month the Guardian published the story of Oxford student Brian White, who won his right to stay in the UK and study after a long battle. There had been concern over his immigration status. This led to a national campaign and an eventual grant of indefinite leave to remain. Brian feels the visa processing system is confusing for those without legal help. Brian’s personal case made for a potentially more complicated visa application than some. However, cases like Brian’s serve to highlight the changes occurring within Britain’s immigration policies to potential new students and migrants to the UK.