UK Tier 4 visas for US F1 visa international students?

Comments by Sanwar Ali:

Attracting international students on Tier 4 visas who would otherwise study in the US sounds like a good idea.  Even without the latest Trump attempts to throw out F1 visa students in the US life has become more and more difficult for students in the US.  Processing delays mean that OPT Optional Practical Training for F1 visa students to work off campus in the US, takes such a long time to obtain that by the time it is granted the job may no longer be available. 

The UK Tier 4 visa system also has many flaws.  Government fees such as the Immigration Health Surcharge in the UK are high.  The UK visa system is still much more generous to overseas students than the US F1 visa system.  In the UK under the Tier 4 visa system you can usually work part-time during term time and full-time during the holidays for almost any employer, without having to make any additional application.   In addition, there is further good news as the new UK post study work visa enabling graduates to work for two years should start in the Summer of 2021 for new overseas graduates.  

It is expected that the UK post study work visa will be relatively quick and easy to obtain and you will be able to work for almost any employer.  The US F1 visa system have restrictions such as only allowing on-campus employment unless you can obtain OPT Optional Practical Training, and it can be extremely difficult later on obtaining a work visa such as the H1B visa to work long term in the US.  Again despite the system being expensive and bureaucratic, compared to the US, it is much easier gaining a work visa such as the Tier 2 visa in the UK with a Tier 2 Sponsor and eventually gain permanent residence in the UK.

Donald Trump’s decision to force foreign students out of the US whose university courses move fully online amid coronavirus, could prompt the UK to offer Tier 4 student visas to those expelled from America. The move to revoke US F1 and M1 student visas was announced by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), coming without warning.

Amid the situation in the US, former UK universities minister Jo Johnson – brother of Prime Minister, Boris Johnson – is urging the government to tap into the huge student population that will be affected by the Trump administration’s decision.

Jo Johnson tweeted: “The UK should consider an ‘emergency scheme’ that will allow students impacted by events in America to transfer to UK universities if they meet the required criteria.”

Renowned physicist, Brian Cox, retweeted Jo Johnson’s post calling it a ‘very good idea’ and tweeting: “We should aim to attract the international students who will have to leave the US to UK universities. This will help the students, send a clear signal that we are open and welcoming and help our economy.”

Large international student losses in UK

The UK is currently faced with the potential loss of thousands of international students as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, with the number of enrollments plummeting for the upcoming academic year. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), Britain’s higher education sector is facing long-term losses amounting to between 3 and 19 billion pounds.

The IFS attributes this to a massive decline in international student enrollments from countries that ‘prop-up’ the UK higher education system, such as India and China. Official UK Immigration statistics show that the number of Indian students enrolling at UK universities in 2019 surged by 93%.

A total of 37,540 Indian students were granted a Tier 4 study visa in 2019, compared to 19,497 students in 2018.

13 UK universities could shutdown

The IFS has warned that as many as 13 UK universities, which attract a large share of international students, face permanent closure without government intervention.

The UK recently updated its post-study work visa policies that will allow international students more time in the UK once they graduate, enabling them to find work. Under the new post-study work visa route, foreign students who complete a PhD in 2021 or after, can remain in Britain for three years.

Meanwhile, undergraduate and Master’s degree holders can stay in the country for a further two years. Under current UK visa rules, international students are only allowed to stay in the UK for four months following their graduation.

US clarifies international student situation

In the US, the Department of Homeland Security clarified the announcement made by ICE, saying that the decision only affects F1 and M1 student visa holders whose courses move fully online. Those students who attend a mix of online and in-person classes are still welcome in the US.

Elsewhere in the world, Australia has said that it will start allowing international students to return to the country, but did not disclose a fixed timeline for when they could enter.

In Canada, where student visas continue to be processed, the government said that it would allow international students to begin their study programs online and they will remain eligible for post-graduation work permits.

Commenting on the decision in the US, Lawrence S. Bacow, the President of America’s oldest university, Harvard, said: “The order came down without notice—its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness. We believe that the ICE order is bad public policy, and we believe that it is illegal.”

Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren described the move as ‘xenophobic and racist’, saying: “Kicking international students out of the US during a global pandemic because their colleges are moving classes online for physical distancing, hurts students. It’s senseless, cruel, and xenophobic.”

Sarah Power, the former US ambassador to the UN, said it made ‘no sense’, adding that it’s ‘completely unworkable for most students.’

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