Foreign students coming to the UK, from outside of the EU, in order to study are eligible to apply for a student visa. Depending on the length of their study there are a number of options available to them. If they wish to study for over 12 months then they will require a Tier 4 visa, which is a part of the points based system. If for less than a year then they may apply for a Student Visitor Visa or an Extended Student Visitor Visa. These latter visas are particularly useful for students looking to come to England to enrol on summer courses to learn English.
Over the past decade there have been increasing worries from the Home Office over the thriving market of fraudulent student visas. "Bogus" schools are set up which provide the documentation necessary for a successful visa application. In return the non-EU national may be required to pay the tuition fees, or even just a pre-arranged amount.
These fears have led to harsh reforms from the Home Office, in an effort to clamp down on what it sees as a free-for-all. They have placed rigid requirements on schools, which offer sponsor student visa applications, which in turn have made a number of schools hesitant to make the effort at all.
The effect on independent student visa sponsors
The schools hit the hardest by these measures have been the independent English language schools. Many of these make the majority of their profits during the summer months when foreign students enrol on summer courses. As well as promoting the English language these legitimate schools also play an important role bringing foreign wealth into the UK. However, because of their narrow profit margins throughout the majority of the year many of these schools are choosing to turn away from recruiting outside of the EU.
The strictures placed on these schools and colleges can make the overall costs outweigh the financial benefits of having foreign students. One example of this is that all centres are required to submit audited accounts sheets to the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) on an annual basis irrespective of the size of the business. For smaller businesses additional costs such as these are harder to absorb. For those schools in the private sector there is the additional hassle of operating under higher levels of educational scrutiny.
Fraudulent visas are an issue that the Home Office has a responsibility to tackle, however, it is worth noting the implications that their reforms have also had on the legitimate and honest centres as well.