New Immigration Rules relating to student visa applications came into effect on 5 October 2020. The following is a brief analysis of the main changes to the student visa process from different perspectives.
What has until now been known as Tier 4 (General) and Tier 4 (Child) under the Points Based System as we know it under Part 6A will now be “Appendix ST: Student” and “Appendix CS: Child Student”.
In addition to Appendix ST and Appendix CS, there are three new appendices, whose names tell us what they are about: Appendix ATAS, Appendix English Language and Appendix Finance. These only apply to students for now but are likely to apply to other routes as the new system is rolled out.
While applicants will need to refer to all those appendices in an application it is indeed somewhat simpler than the previous regime.
In response to COVID-19, UKVI has also made policy updates on the application process and distance learning.
Changes from a student perspective
For students, the most important change is the Student visa has replaced the Tier 4 (General) student visa.
If students are from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein and applicant started living in the UK on or before 31 December 2020, they ought to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme as from this date things will get much harder.
Students coming to the UK from 1 January 2021, will need to apply for a visa to study in the UK.
The earliest date a new style Student visa could start from is 1 January 2021.
Appendix ST and CS contain their own rules on when an application made is valid (rather than those in Part 1 of the Rules).
Importantly, in addition to the usual validity requirements such as having to submit a passport and enrol biometrics, some requirements which used to be eligibility requirements are now validity requirements. In particular:
The applicant must provide a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies reference number that was issued to them before the date of application.
If switching in-country, the applicant cannot be here on certain routes (see below) or on immigration bail.
An applicant who needs consent from a government or international sponsorship agency must have this at the date of application.
Applicants can apply for entry clearance up to six months before the start of the course (as opposed to three months, as for in-country applications).
The good news is that the eight-year time limit on studying courses at postgraduate level has been removed. (The five-year limit for degree level courses is still there however).
Noteworthy is the policy change in response to COVID-19. Coronavirus (COVID-19): Student sponsors, migrants and short-term students sets out temporary policy concessions for student sponsors, students and short-term study students in response to the outbreak of coronavirus. The concessions will be kept under regular review and will be withdrawn once the situation returns to normal.
English language requirement
An applicant will meet the English language requirement if they have a GCSE, A level, or Scottish Highers in English in the UK which they obtained while under 18.
The list of English-speaking countries has been expanded to include Malta and Ireland.
There is more flexibility on where maintenance funds can be held. While the rules now say that funds must be in cash, it will now be more about whether they can be immediately withdrawn. So funds can be in pension and investment accounts, for example, as long as the money can be accessed immediately. Shares, bonds, credit cards won’t work.
Students who are applying for permission to stay in the UK and have been living in the UK with permission for 12 months or more on the date of application won’t need to meet the financial requirement.
Changes from the Sponsor's perspective
Absence of students
Home office will not take enforcement action against sponsors who continue to sponsor students or employees despite absences due to coronavirus.
Sponsors do not need to report student or employee absences related to coronavirus.
This can include absences due to illness, their need to isolate or inability to travel due to travel restrictions.
Sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship if as a result of coronavirus:
A student is unable to attend for more than 60 days
An employee is absent from work without pay for more than 4 weeks
It would however be advisable to retain evidence on file. During an audit when the virus is all over the auditing officer might forget this concession existed!
Home office will keep this under review.
Distance learning students
Sponsors can continue to sponsor existing Students (including Tier 4) who are continuing their studies through distance learning, or starting a new course, whether they’re in the UK or another country.
Sponsors can also start sponsoring new students who will start studying through distance or blended learning in the 2020-2021 academic year, provided sponsors intend to transition to face-to-face learning as soon as it is possible to do so.
If a student has permanently withdrawn from their studies or deferred their studies for reasons unrelated to coronavirus, sponsors must report this as usual.
Sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship for new students who have been issued a Student visa but are distance learning because they have been unable to travel to the UK. However, if a student stops engaging with their distance learning for more than 30 days, whether overseas or in the UK, sponsors must withdraw sponsorship.
Of course, new international students who have not yet applied for a visa but want to start a course which will wholly be studied overseas by distance learning do not require sponsorship under the Student or Child Student routes. This is because they do not need to travel to the UK. Before travelling to the UK, students starting a course by distance learning must have a CAS and a Student or Child Student visa.
Sponsors do not need to tell the Home Office when students have moved to distance learning.
This distance learning concession will be in place for the duration of the 2020-21 academic year. The concession will be subject to regular monitoring to ensure it is working as intended, and it will be subject to review at the end of the 2020-21 academic year.
Modalities of submission of documents and other changes
It is taking longer than usual to process applications because of Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Applicants can now submit applications for scanned documents that meet the requirements. Home office may write to applicants to request original or certified documents. The application will be refused if they do not send the evidence or documents they ask for and do not contact UKVI to agree an extension within the given time limit.
Author: Zoe Luo
I provide paralegal support for the firm's Tier 4 Educational Establishments and Students work and am responsible for the firm's general international promotional events.