UK: Curbs on student visas and jobs rights unveiled

Britain's coalition government has unveiled its proposals for clamping down on student visas and employment rights and is putting them out for consultation until the end of January.

The measures include raising the English language competency requirement, stricter limits on non-EU international students' entitlement to work and their dependants' entitlement to work during the period of study, restrictions on graduates staying on to work, and tighter visa application procedures for extending periods of study.

Tens of thousands of students will no longer be able to stay on in the country while looking for skilled work.

Damien Green, Minister of State for Immigration, said on 7 December that the government was trying to ensure that those who enter on a student visa genuinely come to the UK to study.

"The government is committed to minimising abuse of the student route by those whose primary motivation is not to study but to work and settle in the UK," he said.

Dominic Scott, chief executive of the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), said the changes would not only tackle abuse but reduce the numbers of students coming to the UK.

Under the proposals students would only be allowed to work on campus during the week and for any external employer at weekends and during vacation periods.

Where courses include a work placement the minimum ratio of study to work placement would be raised from 50:50 to 66:33 so courses would become "less attractive to people using them as a way to gain access to the UK employment market".

Dependants will be denied permission to work except where they qualify in their own right, and only students studying for more than 12 months will be allowed to bring their dependants to the UK.

The "Tier 1 Post Study Work Route" will be closed. This has enabled international students to stay in the UK for up to two years after being awarded their degree, working in unskilled jobs, in order to look for skilled work. Instead they will be restricted to applying for skilled jobs. This would remove an entitlement granted to 38,000 international graduates in 2009 and almost 8,000 of their dependants.

All applicants including degree level and English language students will be subject to a secure English language test at upper intermediate or B2 level on the Common European Framework Reference for Languages, up from B1 level previously, unless they are from a majority English-speaking country or have recently studied in the UK as children.

The Home Office says the raised level is broadly in line with requirements in the United States and Australia.

The government is considering whether to require students who want to stay in the UK after their initial course to extend their studies to leave the UK and re-apply from overseas.

The consultation document says: "In implementing our proposals we will continue to monitor how our system of student migration compares with key competitor countries to ensure we continue to be attractive to the genuine international students from across the world."

The policy is aimed at tightening immigration requirements for students studying at below degree level, who made up around two-fifths of adult students coming to the UK in the period March 2009 to March 2010.

Entry will continue to be permitted for students wishing to study courses of under six months' duration.

UKCISA's Scott said: "The proposals mark a radical change from a policy over the last 10 years of encouraging all those with both the funding and qualifications to study in the UK to a far more selective approach clearly aimed not just at eradicating what the UK government calls 'abuse' but also to reduce overall numbers. Assuming that is the policy intention, we have little doubt that it will be effective."

According to the consultation document, the aim of the measures is to "ensure that the number of international students coming to the UK is broadly in balance with the number leaving", as part of a strategy to reduce annual net migration to the UK to "tens of thousands" a year.

Home Office analysis found that one in five students who were granted visas in 2004 were still in the UK in 2009 - with students from Nigeria, Pakistan, India and China least likely to have left the country. Around 23,000 people, one in seven of those granted settlement in the UK in 2009, came via the study route.

Green, the immigration minister, said: "The majority of non-EU migrants are students. They, and their dependants, accounted for around two-thirds of visas issued last year under the Points Based System. It is clear that the government's aim to reduce net migration will not be achieved without careful consideration and action on the non-economic routes including students."

He said the UK's education system was world-renowned and would remain the global destination of choice for the many thousands of higher education students who choose to study abroad each year.

The UK proposals are set out here