Laura Austin, an ELT Consultant for Oxford University Press, looks at how the changing immigration laws in the UK will affect foreign students hoping to live and work in the UK.
Immigration laws are changing in the UK, making it more difficult for foreign students to get general student visas (GSVs). The government are aiming to cut visa numbers by 80,000.
Certain schools have ‘highly trusted sponsorship status’ (HTS) which means that they comply with tough criteria based on absences, drop outs etc. Having HTS gives schools a quota of places to fill in the school and the ability to issue a CAS. (A CAS is a unique reference number given to students on successfully signing up for a course – it allows students to apply for GSVs).
Previously schools could issue a CAS for a GSV without having HTS. This is no longer the case.
The system is toughening up and students are now required to hold a B2 level of English proficiency across all four skills.
This is a huge threat to the ELT industry in the UK. It is estimated that 40% of the ELT admissions in the UK come from GSVs.
Is it important?
Well, yes. Britain’s international and higher education sector is worth £10bn a year. If overseas agents can’t offer students the right package (i.e. combination of study and work options for all language levels) then we will become less competitive in the market and lose business to other countries.
Who will be affected?
Students, teachers, accommodation providers, shop keepers, the whole infrastructure of places like Brighton and Bournemouth which house large numbers of students. Private language schools who don’t achieve their HTS and also universities where students aren’t at a B2 level for all four skills.
Students on foundation year programmes at universities in subjects such as science and maths will notably be affected, as they regularly don’t reach a B2 level at the beginning of their course. There will be costs involved in these students getting the right qualifications.
What is the current system?
The current system allows students on a standard visa to work 10 hours a week (this was previously 20 hours). The fact that students could earn and learn in the UK was hugely appealing. It gave less wealthy students more opportunities and also gave a boost to our workforce in certain areas of the country.
How will the new system be different?
English UK* has been involved in discussions with the Home Office about an Extended Student Visitor Visa (ESVV) and are pleased that it has been confirmed that students can now obtain ESVVs irrespective of their language level. With an ESVV a student can stay for up to 11 months.
However, an ESVV will not allow students to work whilst studying here. This means that agents who have been selling courses in the UK based on this, will no longer be able to.
For students who still need at GSV, they have to take a Secure English Language Test (SELT) to prove they have a B2 language proficiency. Very few GSV applicants have held such qualifications in the past. The SELT list includes: TOEFL and IELTS. Prior to the new ruling, centres were responsible for assessing the level of their students themselves.
In addition to this, UK Border Agency (UKBA) officers will greet students on arrival, or at visa-issuing offices and will have the power to test their spoken English to judge whether they meet minimum standards. As yet, there has been no explanation of how the officers will be able to do this. How will they be able to gauge the level of English? Will they have time for this during peak hours?
Students will also have to prove that they have sufficient funds to support themselves.
Where do we stand?
English UK has also been in discussion with the UKBA about the criteria for HTS status. It really will have a negative impact on the sector if schools are unable to maintain their status. Neither Ofsted or The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) have been prepared for this yet and without an accrediting body involved, it will be difficult to apply these changes. Since the institution needs this accreditation to increase CAS allocation, no ELT centres are currently able to increase their allocation.
When will we find out the final verdict?
The implementation of this was due for mid-April 2011. However, there are various aspects (mentioned above) which haven’t been clarified in enough detail for this to go ahead yet.
*English UK is the national association for accredited ELT providers in the UK with over 450 members.