The Tier 4 (General) Student visa is relied on by 167,000 students per year, coming from a non European Economic Area (EEA) country, or Switzerland, with confirmation of acceptance onto a course for post-16 year old education (i.e. a course at a university or college). The eligibility requirements focus predominantly on the applicant proving their knowledge of the English language and having sufficient funds to maintain themselves and pay the tuition fees. As long as the institution offering the course holds a valid license to sponsor migrant students, the ‘quality’ of the course being offered, or of the institution are irrelevant for immigration purposes.
However, in a potentially unprecedented move, Amber Rudd – the Home Secretary, has suggested that Tier 4 (General) Student visas would, for the first time, be linked to the quality of the course and the quality of the institution offering the course. The subject of whether a course, or institution is of ‘quality’ would surely provide a stumbling block to distinguishing which courses and universities would meet the threshold required for a Tier 4 (General) Student visa. Although Nick Timothy (Theresa May’s Chief of Staff), has suggested granting visas to students from non-EEA countries (and Switzerland) with confirmation of acceptance from Russell Group universities or ‘Oxbridge’ may be the only answer to determining such a threshold.
The task of controlling net migration to the UK at the levels of ‘tens of thousands’ sits very near to the top of the Government’s list of priorities, especially after Brexit. Students coming from countries outside of the EEA and Switzerland on Tier 4 (Student) visas represent 167,000 of the 600,000 estimated individuals migrating to the UK, and therefore represent a fairly opportunistic group for the Government to target with the aim of reducing net migration.
However, it is estimated that such migrants bring £8billion to the UK economy and a recent backlash from Deloitte threatening to leave the UK in the wake of Theresa May’s hard lined approach to immigration, could possibly scupper Amber Rudd’s plans. The Home Secretary claims: “We need to look at whether this generous offer for all universities is really adding value”, and whether “this one size fits all approach is right for hundreds of different universities providing thousands of different courses across the country.” Whilst it can be appreciated that a degree from a Polytechnic university may not offer the same as a degree from Cambridge, the suggested toughening of the immigration rules facing Tier 4 (General) Students hardly resonates Sadiq Khan’s persistent war-cry that Britain remains “open for business”.