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The UK Changes the Visa Application Process, Implications for Language Learners in the Balkans and EE

Timothy Hughes, Entry Clearance Officer at the British Embassy in Moscow, delivered a presentation on behalf of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to announce new visa changes at the recent ICEF Moscow Workshop, where hundreds of educators from approximately 30 countries around the world met quality student recruitment agents from Russia, Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus.

The UK’s Point Based System (PBS) requires people to obtain 40 points to qualify for a Tier 4 student visa. Students need to present a valid Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies from a Tier 4 sponsor and must demonstrate that they have enough money to cover course fees and monthly living costs whilst studying.

Hughes shared some background on student visitor visas and outlined plans for the year ahead. He explains further in the video interview below.

As Hughes’ comments illustrate, various changes to the visa application process will be implemented from 6 April 2012. One key difference is that the UKBA can now assess visa applications up to six months before the travel date, giving more flexibility to agents and students.

Other notable changes that come into effect as of 6 April 2012:

  • Visa application fees are going up.
  • There will now be time limits for degree studies in the UK, including a maximum time limit of five years for study at bachelors and masters level. (Note that there will be exceptions for those completing a PhD as well as certain longer programs of study.)
  • The maximum time for work placements will now be limited to one-third of the course time for studies outside of universities. The maximum work term for those studying at universities will remain half of the course time.
  • Institutions that do not currently meet the UK’s tough new criteria for Tier 4 visa sponsors, but have applied for and are awaiting inspection, are only able to sponsor a limited number of international students in the interim. This interim limit will be extended to cover the further transitional period to the end of 2012, by which time all providers will have been inspected.

Hughes forecasts a healthy demand for visas, particularly in the run-up to the Olympics, and highlights the strong desire from the Russian market to come to the UK to accelerate the language learning process. “There has been a huge demand and interest from Russians in learning the English language,” notes Hughes. Last year they received 177,000 visa applications from Russians to come to the UK, which marked the biggest Russian application volume ever seen.

The UKBA’s recent announcements occur against the backdrop of a highly critical, report from the UK’s National Audit Office (NAO) on the agency’s 2009 implementation of the Tier 4 points-based system for students from outside the European Economic Area. The NAO report was particularly critical of the UKBA’s enforcement of the new visa rules with regard to students who entered the UK on Tier 4 visas to work rather than study and also with respect to cases where students overstayed the term of their UK visas.

A related article in The Chronicle of Higher Education sums up the debate arising from the NAO report as follows.

The British government is debating new efforts to curb immigration, with universities raising concerns about the effects on foreign students and scholars. Regarding the new report, the chief executive of Universities UK, which represents university vice chancellors, said in a statement that ‘visa abuse in relation to U.K. universities is very low compared to other parts of the education sector,’ adding that with strong global competition for international students, Britain needs to ‘ensure that legitimate concerns about immigration do not end up causing irreversible damage to a profoundly successful British export.’

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