UK Tightens Student Visa Route More; Tackles “Rogue” Recruiters

| May 27, 2024
UK Tightens Student Visa Route More; Tackles "Rogue" Recruiters

The United Kingdom (UK) Home Office announced new proposed rules that would tighten the student visa route even further.

The new rules will “regulate the recruitment of international students” and crack down on “rogue” recruitment agents.

They will also introduce “tougher compliance standards” for potential students of higher education institutions.

Home Secretary James Cleverly stated that key visa route applications have rapidly declined.

The Skilled Worker, Health and Care, and Student visa routes have decreased by 25% in the first four months of 2024 compared to last year.

This resulted from the new legal migration changes announced in December 2023 and implemented in the first four months of 2024.

“The full impact of our package is still to be seen,” Cleverly said in a news release.

“But we must go further to make sure our immigration routes aren’t abused,” he stressed.

Cleverly added that the new rules will “ensure international students are coming here to study, not work.”

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan is proud of the British universities’ reputation and quality education, which attracts many applicants.

“It is right that we strike the balance between controlling immigration and making sure the UK remains the ‘go to’ place for students around the world,” she said.

Keegan said the new rules will further support UK universities, “enabling the best and brightest to study here.”

Clamp down on international student recruitment practices

The newly proposed rules for the Student Visa route include a strict new mandatory framework for universities using recruitment agents promoting applications to British institutions.

This aligns with the Migrant Advisory Committee’s (MAC’s) recommendation after a rapid review of the Graduate Visa route.

In its review, MAC stated that some recruit international students who “mis-sell” UK higher education, exploiting students in the process.

The MAC also “found some examples of bad practice from certain agents” in recruiting international students.

MAC recommended having a mandatory registration system for international recruitment agents and subagents.

The registration process must integrate quality checks from the Agent Quality Framework.

It should also collaborate with Devolved Administrations to ensure nationwide compliance.

Additionally, the MAC recommended that universities disclose their spending on recruitment agents and the number of international students they enroll through recruitment.

Graduate Visa, Student Visa routes will be kept under review

The British government remains concerned that the Graduate Visa program does not attract high-earners who boost the UK economy.

Data from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Home Office revealed that over a quarter of Graduate visa holders didn’t have PAYE jobs in the 2023 fiscal year.

PAYE, or “Pay As You Earn,” is how employees pay taxes. When employers pay their employees, they already deduct income tax and social insurance and pay the amount to Revenue.

According to the data, most of those Graduate visa holders, or 63 percent, did not work the entire year.

The Graduate Visa will remain in place as recommended by the MAC, but only until at least after the general election on 4 July, as reported by The Standard.

“The UK’s world-leading universities rightly attract some of the brightest students from around the world,” the news release read.

It added that the government “remains committed to the International Education Strategy.”

This strategy “recognizes the important benefits that international students bring to the UK, including their economic contributions.”

Tougher standards for Student Visa route

The UK government will also introduce stricter compliance standards for institutions recruiting overseas students.

Recruitment agencies can also lose their license if the overseas students they recruit fail UK visa checks, enroll, or finish their course.

International students must prove their ability to support themselves by meeting an increased financial maintenance requirement.

Rules limiting remote learning will also ensure that most international students primarily take in-person classes.

In addition to the proposed rules mentioned, the British government is also reviewing English language assessments.

This is to standardize independent assessments and ensure all international students can understand their course materials.

The UK government said those who lack a mastery of the English language “shouldn’t expect a place at a UK university.”

Cutting down the UK’s net migration

The new rules for the student visa route are still part of the UK’s goal to cut net migration by 300,000.

The following are the new legal migration policies the government has rolled out since the start of 2024.

Only postgraduate international students and those with government-funded courses can bring their families to the UK.

Student visa holders are also no longer allowed to switch to work visas until they have finished their course.

Another is increasing the salary threshold for Skilled Worker visa applicants to £38,700.

The Shortage Occupation List (SOL) with the Immigration Salary List (ISL).

This means employers will no longer be able to pay migrant workers less than UK workers in shortage occupations.

Health and Care workers can no longer bring their families to the UK.

Those who plan to sponsor them must also register with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to prevent exploitation and abuse within the sector.

The UK government also raised the minimum income requirement for family visas to £29,000.

This will eventually equal the salary threshold of Skilled Workers by early 2025.

The latest Official for National Statistics (ONS) data show that net migration has dropped by 10% since 2022.

The Office for Budget Responsibility has previously forecast that net migration will halve from its 2022 peak in the next 12 months.