Government Announces Expansion of a Visa Program for International Students

At the end of 2017, the process of obtaining student visas (Tier 4) for applicants from non-EU countries was changed due to the fast expansion of a new government program. This program provides new flexible systems that allow students switch between different visas and get new opportunities of post-graduation employment. Is it an unexpected dramatic change in the government’s policy regarding international students? Let’s find out.

Why Are These Institutions so Special?

At the moment, it’s hard to explain the number of institutions included in the pilot program. According to the government, the list of the universities was formed based on the refusal rates in particular geographical zones. The universities with lowest rates were qualified regarding their location. The Home Office stated that these institutions illustrate a strong will to admit students on Tier 4 visas (“genuine students”). This visa type was a subject of discussions, given that the current administration expressed suspicions regarding students from non-EU countries, because of the danger that these students can abuse the visa scheme to work in the UK.

Abuse of the Visa Process

This government claimed that Tier 4 visa process is abused for a long time, though not having enough strong evidence. First of all, the Home Office claimed that more than 100,000 international students have their visas overstayed every year, which allows them to continue live in the UK and work illegally. The government has mentioned these estimated figures repeatedly, which is a reason why it initiated a process of counting students from other countries. In practice, it turned out that most of the international students leave the country after their visas expire. Moreover, they make a considerable contribution to the UK economy while they stay in the country.

In August, new figures revealed the truth: only 5,000 of 100,000 students overstayed their visas, which is an insignificant number given the total number of applicants. These statistics left the government a little embarrassed.

A Tacit Acknowledgement?

Does it mean that the government silently admits that it was wrong? Rather not, given the government’s attention to “genuine students”, and limits of the program that includes only the universities with the highest percentage of visa compliance. These facts point to the fact that the government still relies on the conception of Tier 4 abuse.

At the same time, this new scheme illustrates how the position of the government becomes softer. This is the good news for students whose rights for the automatic employment post-graduation were restricted since 2012. Such a restriction was supported by a group of additional measures, including restrictions for students’ dependents and spouses, increased requirements regarding minimal savings, and a system of new rules on academic progression. However, despite these initiatives, the number of international students from non-EU countries remained rather high.

The expansion of the new Tier 4 scheme reflects a new government’s vision of international students’ contribution to the UK economy and universities in particular. Now, when the real rates of overstayed visas revealed, we can expect more such initiatives, and maybe even fewer efforts to limit the number of these students.

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