UK tightens refusal rate for sponsors

31, July, 2014

UK institutions could lose the right to recruit non-EU students if more than 10 per cent of their applicants are denied a student visa, under new rules jointly announced by Prime Minister and Home Secretary this week.

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Currently Tier 4 Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) institutions have to operate within a 20 per cent student visa denial threshold for their applicants. The change to 10 per cent from November is likely to lead to more institutions losing HTS status.

Introducing the new rules as part of wider immigration reforms, Prime Minister, David Cameron, said, “Hardworking people expect and deserve an immigration system that puts Britain first. Over the past four years we have clamped down on abuses, making sure the right people are coming here for the right reasons.”

Home Secretary, Theresa May, added, “We will always act when we see abuse of our immigration system. And that is why we are tightening the rules to cut out abuse in the student visa system.”

A Home Office statement said there was a three-month grace period from now until November for institutions to “re-examine their admissions procedures before offering individuals places”. The Home Office has promised a discretionary approach to institutions recruiting less than 50 non-EU students per year. The rules do not affect the student visitor visa route for shorter courses.

Martin Doel, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), which represents publicly funded further education (FE) colleges, expressed concerns over the impact on the sector, “We are concerned that reducing the proportion of applicants who can be refused a visa to 10 per cent, which can trigger the loss of highly trusted status, might detrimentally affect colleges more than universities, not because they don’t take the care to ensure students are genuine, but because the system is unfairly structured and there is a lack of understanding from entry clearance officers.”

Doel explained that the credibility interview system disproportionally impacts on the FE sector. “Entry clearance officers are often unfamiliar with further education colleges and the types of courses they offer. This means people hoping to study at an FE college are sometimes refused entry to the UK. This happens less than with universities,” he said.

In an interview with Study Travel Magazine last week, AoC International Director, John Mountford, said credibility interviews had already affected recruitment practices, even with the then 20 per cent threshold. “That impact has been most keenly felt in the Indian subcontinent. The colleges that have been traditionally successful there have been hit, and have been worried about recruiting and have started to step back from that.”

Credibility interviews for student visa applicants were extended last year, and a report on the interviews by the UK Council for International Student Affairs raised a number of concerns about arbitrary refusals.

Alex Proudfoot, Association Manager of Study UK, which represents independent FE and HE institutions and specialist training providers, said, “This change will hit smaller providers the hardest, including further education and sixth form colleges, language schools, and specialist institutions which attract students from across the world through word-of-mouth alone.

“They do not have the sheer volume of student numbers to absorb any unexpected spike in refusals. The Home Office claims that a discretionary approach is adopted towards small institutions, but it is too narrow in scope, is too inconsistently applied, and gives little reassurance or comfort to institutions, their shareholders or trustees.”

The new threshold rules come after the Home Office recently suspended 58 institutions from HTS status following investigations into Toeic exam fraud and other measures of compliance, and suggests a toughening of immigration policy ahead of next year’s general election.

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