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Summary of April’s Tier 4 Updates

In late March, members of the UniQuest team who support Teesside University’s international recruitment efforts attended the International Agent and Partner Conference hosted by the University. The Tier 4 visa had the spotlight during the conference as some changes have come into effect as of 6 April. In this post, we summarise the key take-aways from the conference surrounding Tier 4.

How to mitigate risk of visa refusal
Every year, universities sponsoring international students are held accountable for having a visa refusal rate of less than 10%, maintaining an enrolment rate of at least 90% and achieving a course completion rate of at least 85%.

Students seeking a visa must show their ability to finance their studies and living costs in the UK and prove that they are a credible student. Credibility decisions are made through an assessment of:

  • Academic history
  • Immigrant history
  • Career intentions
  • Students’ research and care in selecting the University

Circumstances that tend to lead to more scrutiny include:

  • When a postgraduate student is seeking to study a course that is a different subject from their undergraduate degree. For example, those with accounting undergraduate degrees may be at a disadvantage if they’re planning to study an Msc in Biology.
  • If a student’s post-study work plans indirectly relate to the degree they’re seeking, or do not seem well-considered
  • If employability is over-emphasised and interest in the actual course content is unclear
  • If a student doesn’t speak to comprehensive research into various courses and universities in the UK
  • If a student is currently studying in the UK and wants to change course

While some of the vetting process is quite cut and dry (e.g. financials), there was concern over the subjectivity involved in credibility interviews. Agents in the room spoke of cases where students with genuine intentions are unreasonably refused visas. Bad experiences were discussed like the story of one student who spoke in an interview about how he selected his University because his brother had attended the institution. His visa was refused citing a lack of research into other UK universities.

Of course, there is no full-proof way for universities to ensure every international offer holder gets through the visa process successfully, but there are some measures to keep your refusal rates down.

Pre-CAS check:
Universities should issue a CAS only when they’re confident a student is able to make a successful Tier 4 application.

Universities should vet:

  • Student’s ability to study the course
    Does their academic record and personal statement demonstrate interest and aptitude for the course?
  • Academic progression
    Have they attended university in the UK before but discontinued before completing their degree? Have they changed course?
  • Immigration history
    Check if the student has been refused a visa in the UK or in other countries and, if so, how many times they’ve been refused. Also check if they’ve overstayed on a visa in the past.
  • Financial ability
    Confirm that the student can have the necessary money in their account for a period of at least 28 days ending no more than 31 days before the date of their visa application, and that they can provide a bank statement under their name or their parents’/legal guardian’s name, for that period.
  • Location
    Confirm that the student will be able to submit their application from their country of residence.

Key changes as of 6 April, 2017
There have been a number of updates to the Tier 4 rules which you can access in detail from the Home Office. Below are the changes that were highlighted for agents and universities during the conference.

  • The student work week has been clarified as a 7-day period beginning on Monday. This is an important distinction from the school week Monday to Friday. So, students must understand they can work up to 20 hours Monday to Sunday, not Monday to Friday and then take on additional work hours over a weekend.
  • It’s confirmed that a CAS must show that the student’s course starts within 28 days of their current visa or most recent visa ending. The period of time an entry ban for overstaying will be put into place has been reduced from 90 days to 30 days.
  •  It’s confirmed that students under 18 at the time of their visa application must provide proof of the relationship with their parents/legal guardians along with their letter of consent.
  • (This one is more of a language change from the November 2016 updates, strengthening UK NARIC’s role as performing an evaluation, versus ‘translation’, of overseas degree equivalency).  In order to get an exemption from the English Language requirement, students who have an academic qualification equivalent to a UK degree which was taught in a ‘majority English speaking’ country should provide official documentation produced by UK NARIC that confirms evaluation of the equivalency of the overseas qualification.