The changes announced, according to her, is meant to deliver a strong migration system which tackles immigration abuse, while allowing genuine students to study at genuine colleges.
These changes will come into effect on the 21 April 2011 and it is a complete overhaul of student visa system.
The statement she made to Parliament on 22 March 2011 contains tougher entrance criteria, limits on work entitlements and the closure of the post-study work route.
Immigration on Brightway
The changes is said to have come about after consultation with the public on reforming Tier 4 of the Points-based System.
This consultation, according to the Home Office, revealed widespread abuse of the system as it were.
It claims that the consultation revealed that nearly half of all students coming to the UK are actually coming to study a course at below degree level.
It went further to claim that a recent survey of Tier 4 Students studying at private institutions below degree level shows that 26% could not be accounted for.
The main changes are as follows:
From April 2012, any institution wanting to sponsor students will need to be classed as a Highly Trusted sponsor, and will need to become accredited by a statutory education inspection body by the end of 2012.
The current system does not require this, and has allowed too many poor-quality colleges to become sponsors.
Students coming to study at degree level will need to speak English at an ‘upper intermediate’ (B2) level, rather than the current ‘lower intermediate’ (B1) requirement.
UK Border Agency staff will be able to refuse entry to students who cannot speak English without an interpreter, and who therefore clearly do not meet the minimum standard.
Students at universities and publicly funded further education colleges will retain their current work rights, but all other students will have no right to work. We will place restrictions on work placements in courses outside universities.
Only postgraduate students at universities and government-sponsored students will be able to bring their dependants. At the moment, all students on longer courses can bring their dependants.
It will limit the overall time that can be spent on a student visa to 3 years at lower levels (as it is now) and 5 years at higher levels.
At present, there is no time limit for study at or above degree level.
It will close the Tier 1 (Post-study work) route, which allows students 2 years to seek employment after their course ends.
Only graduates who have an offer of a skilled job from a sponsoring employer under Tier 2 of the points-based system will be able to stay to work.
She concluded her statement to Parliament by hinting that there will be further changes soon.
I attended a meeting shortly after the announcement was made. The meeting was arranged by an association responsible for registered private colleges in the UK.
Virtually all the college owners in attendance expressed concern at the changes to the rules and the effects they are likely to have especially on the B rated colleges.
They expressed anger and fear that all the B rated colleges will be forced to close when the new rule comes into force.
Another implication of the new rule is about the abolition of permission to work for students studying courses below degree level.
There are fears that it will undermine the students and leave them highly disadvantaged as, according to them, the 10 hours a week allowed under the current rule is not even enough to sustain the students and that abolishing it completely will further hamper the students’ finances.
There is also an overwhelming impression amongst the private college owners that the new rule is discriminatory towards private colleges.
Some even expressed shock that some private colleges were issued B rating licences shortly before the new rules were announced. This, they say leaves a bitter taste in the mouth knowing that government issued those licences fully aware that it was going to introduce new changes to the rules.
They reckon the ripple effect of these changes will be:
Colleges would lose revenues running into hundreds of thousands of pounds as a result;
Many colleges will be forced to close down resulting in many loss of jobs running into thousands;
Many foreign students would be forced to look towards other countries with less stringent rules for admission – also resulting in loss of revenue that would have accrued into our economy etc.
The general consensus at the meeting is that the new rules is ill thought-out and counter-productive both to the colleges and to the economy.
The meeting also agreed to pull resources together to collectively seek legal redress on the issue.
Looks like the government has got a fight on its hands over this and it will be interesting to see how things develop from now on.
Certificate of Approval (COA) abolished
The recent announcement by the Home Secretary to abolish the Certificate of Approval Scheme has finally been approved by Parliament. This means that the scheme will end on 9th May 2011.
Prior to this scheme being abolished, any migrant who is already in the UK and is subject to immigration control must apply for a certificate of approval before they can get married or register a civil partnership in this country (unless they are getting married within the Anglican Church).
The COA was originally introduced by the government to prevent sham marriages. When the scheme was challenged in court, the government then introduced few changes to give it more bite.
The government, realising that the previous changes introduced following rulings from the UK courts have weakened the scheme and is no longer an effective method in preventing sham marriages, is now seeking to remedy the declaration by the UK Courts that the scheme is incompatible with Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (read with Article 12).
The abolition of the COA means that as from 9th May 2011 when the Remedial Order comes into force, there will be no legal requirement to obtain a COA to get married.
However, it will continue to process applications until the scheme legally ends. It will also start returning applications and documents as soon as the scheme ends. On the flip side however, it may – in some cases where it is found that applicants have no valid permission to enter or remain in the UK – want to retain documents to undertake enforcement activity.
However, those whose documents are retained will be notified by letter.
All applicants intending to get married in the UK are still required to give notice in a designated register office after the abolition of the COA on 9th May 2011.
Cap on Immigration
Another change to Immigration Rules announced by the government on 6th April 2011 centres on annual limit on non-EU workers coming into the UK.
The new change is about overhauling all routes of entry to tackle abuses, make the system more effective and to achieve massive reduction in net migration and bring it back down to the tens of thousands. It is also meant to ensure that Britain remains open to the brightest and the best.
The annual limit, according to the Immigration Minister Damian Green, will not only help reduce immigration down to sustainable levels but will protect those businesses and institutions that are vital to our economy.
Under the annual limit, employers will be able to bring only 20,700 people from outside the EU to work in skilled professions under Tier 2 (General) of the points-based system. A further 1,000 visas will be made available to people of ‘exceptional talent’.
The 1,000 exceptional talent visas will be given to those who experts believe will make the biggest contribution to Science and the Arts in the UK.
The Immigration Minister went further to state that “To ensure that only those with the skills we need can come to the UK to work, prospective workers will need to have a graduate-level job offer, speak an intermediate level of English and meet specific salary and employment requirements. Those earning a salary of £150,000 or more will not be subject to the limit”.
According to the Minister ‘The new system was designed in consultation with business’.
He also announced that the Intra Company Transfer route (ICT), which is not part of the annual limit, will also be changed in 3 ways:
The job will have to be in an occupation on the graduate occupation list;
Only those paid £40,000 or more will be able to stay for more than a year – they will be given permission to stay for 3 years, with the possibility of extending for a further 2 years; and
Also, from 6th April 2011, Tier 1 of the points-based system will be restricted to all but entrepreneurs, investors and people of exceptional talent as the old Tier 1 (General) category has been completely abolished due to widespread evidence of abuse.
The ‘Exceptional Talent’ route will be open to current and prospective leaders in the fields of Science, Engineering and the Arts and will allow us to continue to facilitate those who have the most to offer the UK.
Under the new visa rules for investors, those who invest large sums of money will see their right to settle permanently in the UK speed up. Those who invest £5 million will be allowed to settle here after 3 years, and those investing £10 million or more will be allowed to settle after 2 years.
This compares with the minimum 5-year requirement that is currently in place. Entrepreneurs will also be able to settle in the UK more quickly, if they create 10 jobs or turn over £5 million in a 3-year period.
In addition to these changes, new rules for settlement and asylum will also come into effect today.
The changes to the settlement criteria include:
A clearer criminality requirement for all applicants;
A new income requirement and reform of the English language requirement, for those on work routes.
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