In late December 2014 Home Secretary Theresa May proposed to implement changes to the Immigration Rules in respect of Tier 4 students. These would require foreign students wishing to switch their course of study or apply for a visa in work categories to return to their country of origin in order to apply for any such type of visa.
Under the current Immigration Rules students on courses of 12 months or more are given an extra 4 months on their visas in addition to the duration of their course; during this time they could find a job and switch in-country to a work visa or find another course and apply for a new student visa. For obvious reasons this system is less cumbersome than if the student was required to travel back home and then to re-apply from their country of residence for any new type of visa. Applying from within the country currently has other benefits such as exemption from a so-called “residence market test” for graduates applying for work permits.
The proposals came at a time of heated political debate on immigration prior to the elections due later this year. The response to the proposals was less than welcoming. A number of leading academics, scientists, politicians and leaders of business community condemned them. For example, Sir James Dyson, one of Britain’s most prominent inventors and business leaders, has said that this is “a short-term vote winner that will harm the economy by losing the UK valuable ideas from the brightest foreign minds”. Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, made his position very clear previously: “I think we need to push higher education as a great, great international export and we need to be even more open in our dealings with other [higher education] institutions around the world”. Representatives of the business community reported that the proposals had already created the damaging impression that the UK was becoming less open to international talent.
However, it was announced earlier today that the proposal would not be backed up in the Conservative’s party manifesto; reportedly the plans were quashed by chancellor George Osborne. The Home Secretary’s supporters, on the other hand, are clear that the idea is not going to be dropped by Ms May either. It remains to be seen if any changes will indeed be proposed and if so, what they will be. The students, however, might be already considering other countries for their degrees and work prospects.