Those with an active interest in Tier 4 of the immigration points based system (the framework for non-EU students to obtain leave to enter or remain in the UK for the purpose of study) will be aware that historically it has been a fast moving policy area, typically the subject of frequent and substantial change. 2016 has been no exception to that position. The most recent version of the Tier 4 sponsor guidance documents became effective from 24 November 2016 and confirmed further changes to concepts such as academic progression, course changes and applications for leave made “out of time”.
UKVI’s objective of the so-called academic progression rule is to ensure that students are progressing academically if they wish to study a further course in the UK. A new course must normally be above the level of the previous course for which the student was given original Tier 4 leave; if a student has failed to successfully complete their previous course, they will generally not be able to demonstrate academic progress and will have to return home and apply from overseas if they wish to obtain leave to study a new course. The latest guidance sees an expansion to the exemptions from the requirement to show academic progression (for example, to include those who were applying as a postgraduate doctor or dentist on a recognised Foundation Programme) and new provisions included in respect of fully integrated Masters / PhD programmes and medicine / veterinary medicine / science / dentistry students who wish to intercalate.
The rules relating to students who wish to change their course without first finishing the course for which Tier 4 leave was originally granted have also been amended. The specific position of such students depends on the date they were originally granted leave to enter or remain in the UK. A student who applied on or after 6 April 2016, for example, can only change courses if (amongst other requirements) they will be able to complete the new course within their current period of leave. If they need further leave, they will generally need to make a fresh Tier 4 application from overseas.
The latest Tier 4 guidance also amends the position in relation to applications for further leave made to UKVI “out of time” – ie where the student’s original period of leave to remain in the UK has expired. Previously, applications made while the student remained in the UK would not be automatically refused on the basis of overstay alone until the period of overstay exceeded 28 days. That position has changed, so that any period of overstaying will now not count against the applicant where the application is made within 14 (rather than 28) days of the leave expiring / the refusal by UKVI of a previous application and there is good reason beyond the control of the applicant preventing the application being made in time. Students should not rely on the overstay provisions purposefully; rather, they should be advised to use all possible endeavours to make the application before their original leave expires.
Looking to the future, we will continue to monitor developments in UK immigration policy during the Brexit negotiations and the consequential impact on students, staff and institutions.