Why the UK must implement an integrated study visa

While the renewal of the post-study work visa is welcome, but international students still face many challenges with the UK’s visa system, says James Pitman

January 25, 2020
UK visa no date

The reintroduction of the two-year post-study work visa for the 2020/21 university intake will see the UK regain its lost market share after years of anti-international student rhetoric, boosting our economy and helping universities that are struggling financially. 

Yet while this policy change from Boris Johnson has rightly received strong commendation from the sector, international students still face problems with the UK visa system before and during their studies.

With its world-class universities, the UK has always been a highly sought after destination for international students. In India, in particular, there was huge demand for the country’s higher education institutions. This was until 2012, when then home secretary Theresa May revoked the two-year post-study work visa, resulting in a 40 per cent drop in the number of Indian student enrolments.

Our new government has demonstrated a more positive attitude to international students with the reintroduction of an attractive post-study work offering. Universities minister Chris Skidmore is working closely with colleagues across departments including the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Foreign Office and the Home Office on a positive international education strategy, supported by sector bodies such as Universities UK, the UK Council for International Student Affairs and the CBI. 

However, the restrictive governance of Theresa May has left in its wake several speed bumps that could hamper the growth and success of the UK higher education sector.

Current situation

This shift in policy has already had a positive impact: research from IDP Connect revealed that Indian students immediately shifted enquiries from Australia to the UK following the announcement.

A 2019 study by the Higher Education Policy Institute found that just one cohort of international students that stays in the UK to work pays £3.2 billion in tax. The research also revealed that international students fill critical skills shortages. These benefits are only set to be compounded with the new visa and a subsequent rise in international student numbers. 

The new post-study work offering will accelerate the popularity of the UK at a time when the ongoing US-China trade war and controversies on US campuses are driving many Chinese students to UK universities instead. This boost in international students will help struggling UK universities alleviate their financial pressures and will also offer cultural benefits on campus.

However, there are still speed bumps in the UK immigration system that continue to dampen the growth of international students applying to study at British universities. Currently, students who come to the UK on a short-term study visa to learn English or gain a particular qualification (which many do, to prepare for further study) must apply for a Tier 4 visa if they wish to continue their studies at a UK university. 

International students changing courses or institution are also forced to reapply for a Tier 4 visa, and these students have to return to their home country to do so. This cumbersome process is time-consuming, expensive, painfully inconvenient for international students and, ultimately, unnecessary.

Those international students who do meet the requirements to be able to apply for a Tier 4 visa from within the UK must deal with an inadequate visa application service. In 2018, the Home Office handed the visa document checking process to information technology company Sopra Steria, which has resulted in lengthy delays in being able to obtain an appointment to submit the required new Tier 4 visa application. Previously, international students had been able to arrange document checks at their local post offices. Universities UK claimed in July 2019 that international students were being forced to pay large amounts of money for a “woefully inadequate document checking service”, with Sopra Steria unable to handle demand. If the current visa application system cannot handle demand now, it is undoubtedly going to struggle with an increase in international students  attracted by the new post-study work offering who choose to continue their education at a UK university.

A streamlined and integrated visa would offer a seamless student journey and allow students to continue their studies in the UK without having to endure painful visa application processes. This would have the added benefit of reduced pressure on Sopra Steria and the Home Office.

What would the benefits of a streamlined visa be?

International students and academics who come to study or work in the UK have greatly enhanced the higher education sector, British society and our economy. Yet, for years, the government’s lukewarm attitude towards international students has been sending the wrong signal.

An integrated visa will go a long way in reversing the damage caused by this sentiment and allow the UK to claim back lost market share. It will provide choice and flexibility for students, reduce pressure on the Home Office and, importantly, send a strong message that the UK has its doors open for talented young people around the world.

Given the size of our education export market (which was recently valued at £21.4 billion according to the UK government), it is in the UK’s best interests to prioritise this.

To maximise the success of international student recruitment and restore the UK’s status as a first-choice study destination, we must continue to demonstrate to students around the world that we value them and aim to support them as much as possible. An integrated visa is an excellent way to do this.

James Pitman is managing director for the UK and Europe at Study Group. 

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Reader's comments (8)

I had to exit the UK immediately after my studies and I have never felt more betrayed. Other commonwealth countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada are much better. Don't be surprised if many Indian students to boycott UK for their higher studies. This is a welcome move but it is too little and too late. I felt so much pain and anguish from your UK visa system I am not going to return even as a tourist. You can lock and close your borders. We don't mind.
@Ahmad and others with similar stories, I feel your pain and was a victim of Theresa May's constant Immigration goal post shifting. I spent a lot of time studying for my Masters and what Theresa May's latest evil mix of immigration rules were, which were frequently issued, almost monthly. I felt like a cornered rat, and it was beyond frustrating for many students. I had to pack it up and leave uk when UKBA or whatever they are called were demanding as part of the requirement for visa renewal I should be earning amounts similar to what midlevel managers earning, as a recent graduate. I had planned to build a career in my specialist career but you barely get a breathing chance to do so with their deceitful rules. What the UK government does is simply to chew you up and spit you out like waste and I won't be surprised if it was the terror and anguish "Terrorist" May caused thousands of foreign students that led to her also experiencing an anguishing exit from office. For the pain caused me I ensure I dissuade everyone desiring of studying there never to go there and rather sell other student friendly countries to them, which they can go on to develop their career. Study or tourism? No thanks.
It is really very unfortunate that some countries who claim to be in the helm of affairs regarding humanitarian services are the same ones depriving genuine humanity the opportunity to acquire the necessary training and knowledge to help make the world a better place for everyone. I am an underprivileged orphan unemployed graduate who struggled so hard to acquire a first degree in the University. I have not been fortunate to get a gainful employment after more than 14years of graduation. I have been living from hand to mouth doing free/stipend paid humanitarian work to survive hoping and wishing that things will change someday. I never gave up hope, I continued using all the little resources I managed to acquire to source for scholarships in order to advance my studies for better employability where I can help other educationally disadvantaged get the best possible life. After so many years of unending trials to gain scholarship, I finally got one in July, 2019 to study MSc course in a UK University ( the scholarship procedures was a very hectic one as I took loans from great friends to journey to and fro the Island where I reside uncountable times). Finally, I came out successful among 200 awardees with the conditions that I have to source for funds to embark on my journey then send my invoice to the sponsoring body when I arrived the UK for them to pay pay all the scholarship worth. I proceeded to take more loans from friends (as I don't have any wealthy direct family relatives that could have helped), sold some of my personal belongings to apply for UK tier 4 Visa. And here comes the worst painful period of my life, UKVI refused me the Visa based on their conclusion that I didn't do much research on my choice of school and career during my Credibility interview response. This UKVI decision left me devastated till now where I am pleading with the entire Universe to help me out. For goodness sake, this was my first time and I was going through psychological and physical pains which I couldn't relate with them. l lost a close family member, I was defrauded of a huge sum I borrowed (which was supposed to be part of my financial support); and was going through a very painful physical stress. I presented valid documents and information about myself. I had no history of crime, drugs, jail or criminal records. Of all the 200 awardees, I am the only one that UKVI refused Visa, I kept wondering. All my efforts to appeal proved abortive as I could not get the exact direct contact to channel my ordeal. I have stories to tell, and until I succeed in my genuine life pursuit, I will continue to source for places where I can publish my experiences. I see most fraudulent people, people with past criminal records and those with dishonest intentions been issued Visa by UKVI because they offer huge money into the system. But people with genuine intentions are refused Visa, is this country the perfect place where life begins or could be sustained forever? I say, Capital No, I believe there is more to whatever is happening and I will never rest until my story is heard in the whole Universe. Right now, UKVI 'wonderful ' shocking decision on my Visa refusal returned me to square zero and I am at the verge of losing the scholarship by February, 2020. I am thinking every day on how to get a well paid job anywhere to pay back all the debts. My hope is still very much alive as I didn't pass away due to the shock. I can't say much about true humanitarian services and life until great decisions are made fairly and things are genuinely perceived in a balanced perspective. Note: I don't believe in asking for free assistance but i keep doing free services to all I come across. Don't I deserve to be unconditionally favoured?
I am Muhammad sajid I went to UK for Associate degree in business administration in Croydon. I pay about 8500 £ for the study in college but before I come to UK I really don’t know that the college will with just 2 rooms and after 6 months my college’s licence was revoked and they get back their license again and on the second time college was completely shut down by the UKBA. My college promise that they will give my fee back and I was waited or the amount what I paid to college back and I was working Lidl I was paying taxes and UKBA raid on Lidl and send me back to Pakistan and they wrote all the information on the papers what they save me when they arrest me wrong I show them my salary slips and still they said I was working illegally. I come on a point that whenever UK make any new policy they just want to get their revenue from Asian countries they don’t care about our feelings, problems, they just need to get money from international students. They send me back and from they day they arrest me I was thinking that I am a very big criminal they make me football they kick me from one detention to another and keep in the detention like animal’s. When you give license to the colleges to Reqruitment for international students please check their credibility. David Cameron fucked my life when he was the prime minister it happened at that time. UKBA didn’t give my passport even back I call them many time from Pakistan please return my passport but they never give me positive answer due to this I face strong actions by the immigration of Pakistan. I went back in Pakistan I work in the multinational company for 2.5 years then apply for Italian students visa I got and now I am studying in italy from 2015 till today and I am near to complete my studies in this year and I will get work permits as well after completing my degree. The beat place to study is Italy, in t 5 years time I paid hardly 4000 euro tuition fee and have many facilities as well but the government italy don’t have any aim to make business of study. There were one guy from UK he tell many things about the study in UK as well and was very upset by UK and he moved his nationally from Britain to Italian and this is the truth of UK. Honestly I was thinking to apply for tourism visa for UK last year but I was scared that they will 100% reject my visa saying that we cannot trust that you will leave UK after your visit because you been removed from UK. When UKBA catch me I request them to please let me by my own ticket for Pakistan they said no they will send me back in charterd plain. So UKBA fucked up my life and the wrong decision of UK government to gain the popularity in the country but they mess the life of many international students in 2012 to 2014 they send many students back without any geniune reason behind.
Too little too late... most Nigerians prefer Canada, US and other countries in Europe over UK... the policies have been unfriendly for so long
I don't encourage anyone to study in the UK anymore, unless it is a UK government scholarship. Education is a business for the British government and once you are milked dry, they spew you out. I did all sorts of menial jobs even after two master's degree at different times in the UK. I studied agribusiness on the second one but most employers in that sector had no license to sponsor immigrants. Even whe AB Agri, a licensed employer wanted to hire me, I was told I was too senior and overqualified for the role. I ended up doing care jobs until I left. Please, there are immigrant-friendly countries like Canada and Australia. UK isn't and there is institutional racism in UK. New Zealand even offers better chances in integrating and getting employment. If you ask me, UK doesn't give a hoot about any immigrant. They only started to care because the revenues from immigrants started falling drastically. Immigrants pay school fees in one to two years, home students pay in up to twenty years through loans. Think about that and the time value of money. That is the only reason for this sudden and re-awakened interest in foreign students.
"International students changing courses or institution are also forced to reapply for a Tier 4 visa, and these students have to return to their home country to do so. This cumbersome process is time-consuming, expensive, painfully inconvenient for international students and, ultimately, unnecessary." Not necessarily true that they have to return home if they wish to change institution or course. It does depend on the level of study, the type of institution and whether they have successfully completed the course that they were previously given a CAS for.
Anyone else that graduated in 2020 know if we can appeal to get the new 2-year post study work visa?