Sector calls for student visa reform

18 July 2019

The importance of international students, both culturally and economically is well-recognised, however currently the UK is being hampered by a challenging student visa system. We think the commitments in the Immigration White Paper and the International Education Strategy present a real opportunity to rethink how the student visa system operates for institutions and students.

We have joined forces with Universities UK, Guild HE, MillionPlus, the Russell Group and University Alliance to produce five principles for reform of the student visa system. Adopting these principles will enable the government to reach their target of growing the number of international students studying in the UK annually to 600,000. 

We call for specific actions to be taken across three key areas:

  • Improving the international student experience
  • Reducing the administrative burden
  • Increasing the reliability, transparency and accountability of the immigration system

The five principles outlined are:

  • A new system must enable growth in international student numbers as outlined in the International Education Strategy. 
  • The new process must be accessible for all international applicants, support a diverse range of applicants and improve student experience of the UK visa system. 
  • The process should be cost-effective and simple to administer. 
  • The system and visa processes should be easy for students and sponsors to understand and navigate. They should be predictable, with consistent decision making and reliable advice issued by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). 
  • The new system must be fair, fully transparent and apply equally to all higher education providers.

Unless the actions set out in this briefing are taken, we’re concerned about the government’s ability to meet its commitment to grow the number of international students studying in the UK annually to 600,000.  

Anne Marie Graham, Chief Executive of UKCISA, said:

“International students coming to the UK make a huge contribution to UK education and society, and it is imperative that they have the best possible experience. The principles we propose for Tier 4 reform will ensure a consistent and transparent immigration process for students.

“We have a significant opportunity with the proposed immigration bill to make a real difference to the international student experience and ensure that the UK is open and welcoming to all those who want to study here.” 

Former Universities Minister Jo Johnson MP said:

‘The UK will lose its world-beating position in the global higher education market if it does not improve its offer to international students. The proposals put forward in this briefing highlight a number of ways in which the Government could help make the UK a more attractive destination for international students.  

“It is essential that well-meaning measures to prevent the exploitation of student visas do not become unnecessarily burdensome on universities or put off the brightest and the best students from studying in the UK.”

Please read the full briefing, share with your colleagues, networks and members. If you’re sharing on social media, please use #StudentVisaRefom