A new Tier 4 visa pilot scheme was launched by UK Immigration on 25 July, 2016 for a period of two years. This will allow non-EU students on Masters Degree programs on courses of 13 months or less from four top UK universities to remain in the UK for up to six months following completion of their studies; students applying for tier 4 visas to study at the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, University of Bath, and Imperial College London, will be able to stay six months longer to find jobs via the Tier 2 visa program.
The Home Office is understood to have chosen these four educational institutions to benefit from this new Tier 2 visa scheme due to their ‘consistently low level of visa refusals,’ according to a government memo circulated to vice-chancellors at each of the four universities.
The universities participating in the scheme will be accountable for eligibility checks, while students will be able to provide a reduced number of supporting documents to apply for their Tier 4 student visa. According to the Times Higher Educational Supplement, the program is intended to make the process of applying for a Tier 4 visa, easier.
Sanwar Ali, Editor of workpermit.com News has the following comments to make:
This new Tier 4 Visa pilot scheme introduced by UK Immigration is not likely to make much difference. It is restricted to students applying for tier 4 visas for four Universities and even then only to Masters Degree students on courses of thirteen months or less. Most of these students can stay in the UK anyway for four months after their study ends. If the Government really wanted to make a difference they would have reintroduced the very popular and successful tier 1 post study work visa scheme.
New guidelines regarding new Tier 4 visa scheme
The Home Office has issued new Tier 4 visa guidelines regarding the pilot scheme. They have also stated that the scheme is ‘intentionally narrow in scope in order to monitor the pilot outcomes against the stated objectives and to minimise the risk of unintended consequences before considering rolling it out more widely.’
All Tier 4 Students on longer courses can remain four months longer anyway
According to the international students section of the University of Cambridge’s website, Tier 4 visa holders on a course of 12 months or longer can remain in the UK for an additional 4 months anyway following completion of their studies. This is true for any students
A section on the university’s website reads:
‘If you complete your course on time (i.e. according to the course end date in your Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies - CAS) the University remains responsible for you until you leave the UK, switch to another visa category or move to another Tier 4 Sponsor.
During your additional leave granted at the end of your course, the Home Office allows you to work full-time within certain limits. If you start employment on your existing or new visa please advise your College of your employer's details and the visa held to work.
However, the website also advises that students completing their studies early, at a date earlier than that specified on the Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS), should not assume they can stay in the UK until the date that their Tier 4 visa expires.
Former Tier 1 Post-study work visa
Universities and students had lobbied for the reinstatement of the Tier 1 Post-Study Work visa, which enabled international students on Tier 4 visas to remain in the UK and work following graduation, but was scrapped by the government in 2012. In January 2016, and as reported by Workpermit.com, the UK government announced that the popular post-study work visa would not be reintroduced, despite strong support from Scotland in particular for the reintroduction of the Tier 1 post-study work visa.
UK immigration has continued to impose stricter legislation on the Tier 4 visa program, it is claimed to prevent people posing as students to come to the UK primarily to work. The government declared a clampdown on those abusing the student visa system.
The government memo said: “The pilot’s aim is to test the benefits of a differentiated approach within Tier 4, whilst ensuring that any changes do not undermine the robust application of UK immigration requirements.”
It’s understood that the pilot scheme will be closely monitored by the Home Office throughout the two year period, with the government department set to carry out a formal evaluation of the Tier 4 scheme once it reaches its conclusion.
The government memo stated: “The results of the ongoing monitoring and evaluation will inform any decision to roll the pilot out more widely.”
Concerns from higher education circles
However, the pilot scheme has raised a number of concerns in the higher education sector. In particular, there’s a concern that, should the pilot scheme prove successful, it could result in unfairness in the visa system.
Speaking to the Times Higher Educational Supplement, Pam Tatlow, the chief executive of MillionPlus, the association for modern universities, said: “This pilot formalises a differentiated approach to universities that will concern many vice-chancellors and principals and should concern the Department for Education and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.”
“A two-tier system based on the cohorts that these four institutions recruit in no way reflects the wider international market in which universities throughout the UK engage,” Tatlow added.
Nick Hillman, the director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, expressed similar concerns to Tatlow, saying: “We still have a single national UK-wide higher education system. But it is stretching at the seams and any attempts to pick off a few universities or a few subjects and to treat them differently risks ripping that apart.”
“In the end, the whole country will lose because it is equivalent to telling the rest of the world we value some things more than others,” Hillman added.
Commenting on the pilot scheme, a Home Office spokeswoman said: “People who want to study at world-leading, UK educational institutions are most welcome. This carefully. targeted pilot scheme will help to ensure that UK universities are consistently competitive and able to attract the brightest and best students from all over the world.”
The spokeswoman did point out that students participating in the scheme still need to fulfil all criteria in accordance with Home Office, UK immigration rules. This does include appropriate identity and security checks.
“Applications that fail to comply with UK Immigration Rules will be rejected,” the spokeswoman said.