The Government has issued its latest Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules. The Government has consistently stated that its intention is to significantly reduce net migration into the “tens of thousands”. This time round the cross hairs have been firmly targeted on Tier 4, particularly college students.
The main proposed change announced by Immigration Minister James Brokenshire is in relation to those students at publicly funded colleges who from next month may lose the right to work whilst studying in the UK. There was previously a right to work 10 hours per week during term time and unlimited hours during vacation for such students but not anymore, and the change will bring them into line with those conditions already applying to students at private colleges.
The implication for employers who are heavily reliant on student labour, particularly those in sectors such as retail, food and hospitality are self-evident.
Further issues will also arise in respect of right to work checks where, going forwards, some public college students will have the right to work whilst others do not. Employers will therefore need to be extremely thorough in carrying out these checks when seeking to secure a statutory excuse against fine or penalty (£20,000 per employee) and should certainly be aware that any right to work for an existing college student employee will lapse on his or her visa renewal in any event.
The Government’s stated motivation is that it has concerns that less than reputable immigration advisers are promoting the Tier 4 route to non-European Economic Area (EEA) migrants as a “backdoor” to enter and work in the UK, and this avenue is now to be firmly blocked.
Further proposed changes include:
- A ban on college students from extending their Tier 4 visas in the UK, unless progressing their studies at a linked University recognised by the Home Office. In essence resulting in many students being required to leave and then apply for a new visa from outside the UK.
- A ban on college students from being able to switch visas to Tiers 2 or 5 in the UK, with a requirement to, again, make them apply from outside the UK.
The changes to the Rules have met with mixed reviews. In particular, warnings were made by the Association of Colleges that these measures will significantly affect the UK’s ability to attract international students, echoing further concern voiced by academia earlier this year in respect of the, now abandoned, proposal to have the mandatory removal of all non-EEA students following their graduation.
The Government states that “These changes will help reduce immigration abuse ensuring the UK maintains a competitive offer and attracts the brightest and best international students. The UK continues to welcome genuine students to our world class universities.” Whether or not non EEA students will ‘feel the love’ remains to be seen, as the figures for international student applications continue to fall.