Thursday, June 20, 2024

UK cracks down on student visas

For now, the UK’s Graduate Route scheme, which is popular among Indian students for its post-study work opportunities, remains unaffected. The government has announced that it will keep the scheme “under review” while proposing measures to tighten student visa regulations to prevent them from being exploited as a pathway to immigration. These actions come in response to a 10 percent decrease in net migration, which was welcomed by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as he begins his campaign for the upcoming general election scheduled for July 4th. Sunak, a British Indian leader, has made curbing migration, both legal and illegal, one of his top priorities as he seeks support from the electorate.

“Since I became Prime Minister, net migration has fallen by 10 percent. The plan is working. Let’s stick with it,” declared Sunak. The Home Office emphasized that the recent ONS figures don’t consider the stricter visa rules for family dependents implemented earlier this year, which resulted in a 25 percent decline in visa applications. Furthermore, under additional stringent measures, the government aims to regulate the recruitment of international students, targeting “rogue recruitment agents” who coax individuals into applying to British universities. This will be achieved by mandating universities to adhere to a strict framework for agents.

Stricter compliance standards for institutions recruiting international students will be implemented, with universities facing the risk of losing their sponsor licenses if they accept international students who subsequently fail visa checks, fail to enroll, or fail to complete their courses.

“Applications are already declining significantly… but we must take additional steps to prevent the abuse of our immigration pathways. That’s why we are targeting rogue international agents and strengthening efforts across government to ensure that international students come to the UK for study purposes, not for work,” emphasized UK Home Secretary James Cleverly.

Regarding the Graduate Route, the Home Office acknowledged the warning from the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) in a recent rapid review, highlighting the threat posed by rogue recruitment agents. These agents engage in poor practices, exploiting student and graduate visa holders by “mis-selling” UK higher education.

Given that migrants on the student route transition directly to the Graduate Route, the Home Office emphasized the need for immediate action. Additionally, concerns persist that the scheme is not attracting the “highest earners who contribute to our economy,” as indicated by an analysis conducted by the tax department.

The Home Office stated that new proposals will tighten regulations on student visas to ensure only genuine students can come to the UK, while the Graduate Route will remain under review. This suggests that the route is secure at least until the election, when a newly elected government will decide on its future direction.

“We are absolutely delighted and very relieved that the UK government has made the right decision to retain the Graduate Route, as it is crucial for Indian students. We are also pleased that the focus will shift to regulating agents,” expressed Sanam Arora, Chair of the National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU) UK, which has been advocating for the post-study visa.

Among the planned measures, the government intends to raise financial maintenance requirements, requiring international students to demonstrate their financial self-sufficiency. Additionally, the government is reviewing English language assessments with the aim of standardizing independent assessments, ensuring that all international students possess the necessary skills to comprehend their course materials or risk not being admitted to a UK university.

Furthermore, restrictions on remote delivery will be implemented to ensure that overseas students primarily undertake face-to-face courses, according to the Home Office.

These proposals are part of the broader plan led by the Sunak government to reduce legal migration. They estimate that under these stricter rules, approximately 300,000 individuals who arrived last year would be unable to do so.

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