Spike in UK student numbers prompts fears of visa abuse

Feb 15, 2013 by

Source: www.guardian.co.uk via PwC – EdLive

A sharp increase in student visas popular with English language learners coming to the UK to study has raised concern that bogus applicants could be abusing the visa system to enter the country. The latest official statistics on migration to the UK show a sharp rise in the number of student visitor visas (SVV), which allow entry for up to 11 months but which are easier to obtain than the long-term student visa, known as Tier 4. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) report on migration figures published last month revealed that applications for SVVs rose by 12% to a record 67,000 in the 12-month period ending September 2012. In contrast Tier 4 visas issued in the same period dropped by 26% to 211,000. Education providers in the UK say that the fall is a result of tighter rules for Tier 4 applicants introduced by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) in recent years. But a separate report by John Vine, Independent Chief Inspector, Borders and Immigration, into the management of student visas by UKBA, published in the same week as the ONS statistics, calls on the government agency to monitor SVV numbers for possible abuse. The report highlights a significant change in student visa trends. Between February and May 2012 for the first time more SVVs were issued than Tier 4 visas. The report says that this change was a result of a sharp fall in Tier 4 applications possibly linked to the introduction of further visa rule changes. But the trend in SVV applications is also increasing year-on-year observed Vine.

The English language schools and colleges in the UK, which are the destination for most SVV holders, and which rely on SVVs for a significant part of their revenue, now fear that their business will suffer if the UKBA tightens SVV rules. Tony Millns, Chief Executive, English UK, the industry body which represents English language providers, says that the rise in SVVs should be seen as an endorsement of the UK’s English language teaching expertise and not as a threat.