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As from 6 April 2012, a series of new visa rules will come into effect in the UK, a number with direct impact on international students. Changes in this vein have been anticipated for some time, and figure into a larger process of visa system review that has evolved over the last 16 months (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, November 2010 and June 2011).
Amongst the more salient developments announced by the Home Office on 15 March, the Tier 1 (Post-Study Work) category, which previously had allowed migrants almost unrestricted access to the UK labour market for two years after graduation is now closed to new applicants. At the same time, a new Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) category is being introduced. Under this category, graduates who have been identified by UK higher education institutions (HEIs) “as having developed world class innovative ideas or entrepreneurial skills” may apply to extend their stay in the UK after graduation to develop their business. Only 1 000 places per year have been allocated for this category, and these places are to be equally divided between all HEIs. Successful applicants will be granted a 12-month stay, with possible extension for another 12 months.
In light of the closure of the Tier 1 (Post-Study Work) category, some changes relevant to post-study work options are also being introduced to the Tier 2 (General) category, which caters for skilled workers with a job offer. Here, the new regulations clarify that only applicants having “lawfully completed and passed a UK degree, Postgraduate Certificate in Education or Professional Graduate Diploma of Education” or “a minimum of 12 months of study in the UK towards a UK PhD” will be considered for Tier 2 post-study work. Furthermore, such applicants must be able to demonstrate that they are drawing an annual salary of at least GBP 35 000 (EUR 41 800) or the “appropriate rate” for their job as set out in UK Border Agency Codes of Practice.
In a bit of an entrepreneurial move of its own, the Home Office has also set forth a new Premium Customer Service option for A-rated sponsors in Tier 2 and Tier 5 (which focuses on temporary workers). These sponsors may apply and pay for a range of additional benefits—including “direct contact into the UK Border Agency, guaranteed access to Public Enquiry Office appointments and swift return of documents for their sponsored workers”. The premium service option comes as an apparent response to the demands of business for “a higher level of customer service for themselves and their international workers”.
Some sponsors and immigration reform supporters may be pleased with this turn of events, but many international student advocates in the UK—not least ACA member the British Council (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, February 2012)—worry about possible trouble ahead.Home Office, UK Border Agency Home Office