Overseas Students Face Severe New UK Visa Restrictions:

How’s your level of English? Not so good? In which case, if you’re from outsidethe European Union and thinking of applying to follow a course in the UK – don’t bother. The British Government doesn’t want you here. That much was already clear from Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s speech on immigration in November 2009 . He promised ‘consultations’, but in practice appears to have given scant attention to the views of the UK’s Universities and the ELT (English Language Teaching) profession. Sympathetic MPs (Members of Parliament) were lobbied , petitions circulated, all to no effect. In an interview with journalist Andrew Marr  (BBC TV1; Sunday 7th February 2010), Home Secretary Alan Johnson confirmed that the new regulations would come into effect immediately – that there was no need for additional legislation. His justification for the more stringent measures was that 30% of the people entering the UK do so on student visas and that many of them enrol for ‘phoney’ short courses, not for university degrees. The Government, he declared, had already closed down “200 bogus colleges”. He did, however, acknowledge that Britain is the  “second most popular international destination” for Higher Education and so they have to be very careful “not to damage a major part of the UK economy which generates between £5 – £8 billion for the country”. That, nonetheless, is exactly what many in the UK ELT sector believe could now happen.

The UKBA (UK Border Agency) has subsequently published on its website the  details of the “tougher rules”. Among the most significant changes: Students entering the UK for courses of less than 6 months duration are banned from bringing dependents with them. If the enrolment is for a longer period but not for a university degree, their dependents can accompany them but are not allowed to work. Those who do will be removed from the UK. Students following a course ”below first degree or foundation level” can themselves now work only 10 hours per week during term-time – a reduction of 50%.  Furthermore: “ A good standard of English (equivalent of holding just below a GCSE in a foreign language)”  –  described as “Intermediate” by the Home Secretary in his BBC TV interview – “will be needed to come to the UK to improve English language competency”. The criteria for identifying which course providers count as “highly trusted sponsors” of foreign students will become far more rigorous. Mr Johnson “makes no apologies for setting out the necessary steps which will maintain the robustness of the system”. He also anticipates that by 2011,Britain will have “the most sophisticated set-up in the world for checking the people coming into and leaving the country”.

All this raises several crucial issues. Presumably, students already in the UK will be permitted to continue working 20 hours per week – otherwise they would instantaneously become illegal.  Not all Colleges and publishers will agree with the Government’s definition of “Intermediate”. Enrolments for the Beginners, Elementary, Preliminary and Pre-Intermediate courses run by many language schools have traditionally tended to come from non-EU parts of the world such as Latin America. This will no longer be the case and could clearly have an adverse impact on student numbers, income and staff job security. As David Blackie, Director of  ‘International Education Connect’ has pointed out: “Many British institutions, in both the private and public sectors, are faced with a serious problem because of this draconian & arbitrary ruling”. How would we feel, he asks, if the Russians would only give visas to British students wishing to learn Russian if their knowledge of the language was of GCE standard?  The solution to “the rogues in the ELT business”, he asserts, is to deal with them – not to inflict damage on an industry which does so much for the country’s international standing, contacts and invisible exports.





Filed under: Immigration & Visas | Posted on March 3rd, 2010 by Colin D Gordon

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