Tier 4 is part of the UK Border Agency’s points-based system for immigration. The Tier 4 category is for adult students, over the age of 16, who want to study in the UK. Following a review by the Home Office, which revealed abuses of the student visas system, significant changes were made in April 2011.
What changes were made to the student visa system?
As a result of an overhaul of the Tier 4 category, tougher English language requirements were imposed and the accreditation criteria for sponsors were changed. The main changes were:
- New sponsors required to meet an educational accreditation criterion in order to obtain a Tier 4 licence. This involved any institution wishing to sponsor students needing to hold Highly Trusted Sponsor status and become accredited by a statutory education inspection body by the end of 2012. This change was implemented in order to prevent poor-quality colleges becoming sponsors, as had happened previously. Until institutions met these requirements, there was a limit imposed on the number of sponsorships they were allowed.
- English language needs to be spoken at an ‘upper intermediate’ level by students wishing to study in the UK at degree level. Previously, the requirement was to speak English at a ‘lower intermediate’ level.
- If students require an interpreter to speak English, they clearly do not meet the minimum requirement and UK Border Agency staff can deny them entry into the UK.
- The time limit for student visas was limited to three years at lower levels and five years at higher levels, as opposed to previously there was no time limit for study above degree level.
- Students could retain the work rights they had as of April 2011, provided they were at universities or publicly funded further education colleges. All other students lost the right to work as of April 2011, and work places in courses outside universities had restrictions placed on them from that point onwards.
- After their course ends, students are no longer allowed two years to find employment. Instead, they are only able to stay in the UK to work if they have successfully sought a skilled job from a sponsoring employer under Tier 2 of the points-based system.
- The rules on whether students are allowed to bring their dependents were made stricter, meaning that only postgraduate students and government-sponsored students can do so (provided the course is longer than 12 months), rather than all students on longer courses, as was the case before the rules changed.
- Tier 4 applicants are now required to sign a form stating that they have sufficient funds to support their stay in the UK, and bank statements will be required to support this.
The Government is also keen to develop routes for young student entrepreneurs who are creating wealth and would like to pursue their bright ideas within the UK.