UK Visitor Visa categories to consolidate and become more flexible

The UK’s Tier 4 visa system is set for more changes as the government finetunes its new Immigration Act, which is set to be announced this autumn. UKVI’s Bharat Pamnani told delegates at StudyWorld this week that the government is planning on consolidating visitor visa categories. It is also considering offering a cheaper Premium Service for smaller providers.

05-09-2014 by The Pie News

Bharat Pamnani, speaking at the StudyWorld fair in London this week, told delegates that the 15 short-term visitor visa categories will be decreased to just three "most being absorbed into the ‘visitor’ route".  According to Pamnani, visa holders will be given more flexibility for the activities allowed under each visa.  This included work or study, he added.

Furthermore, in 2015, the government plans to rebrand the Student Visitor Visa (SVV) as the "short-term study visa".  Currently, the SVV allows students to study up to six months or up to 11 months on the Extended SVV (ESVV). Pamnani added: "The name will change but the criteria will remain the same." He also said that a cheaper version of the £8,000 per year Premium Service could be announced by April next year. According to Pamnani, this service enables education institutions to pay to expedite processes. The process includes an individual case worker and regular updates on CAS approvals issued.

The lo-fi version of the premium service would be aimed at smaller providers.  These smaller providers deal with a lower volume of students. However, Pamnani did not confirm how much the government would charge or what the size requirements would be. "Immigration policy is causing us to be indirectly racist," he said.

As the government cracks down on visa fraud and student immigration, it’s an uncertain time for the international education sector as it becomes a key battle ground for political parties in the lead up to next year’s election.

Delegates at StudyWorld expressed concern that further regulation tightening, means providers are forced to compromise their business practices.  This regulation tightening includes the recent decrease from 20% to 10% for  visa refusal rates.

One stakeholder said: "Immigration policy is causing us to be indirectly racist."  "It drives providers away from markets where refusal rates are high. We don’t dare go to India, Pakistan or Nigeria." 

The event sees a majority of ELT providers convene in London to meet education agencies.  Many there confirmed that 2014 had been a competitive year for those offering adult courses.  However, the junior market was reported to be growing.

Market intelligence reports for China shows that 87% of Chinese parents are willing to pay for study abroad experience.

60% of the students going abroad are using agents and about 30% of those agents are proficient in English. According to reports, at the moment, higher education is dominating demand.  However, the ELT market is beginning to increase eventhough only about 5-10% of agents have experience in selling these types of programmes.  Only 30% of those agents in China are proficient in English.

Lead times are longer in China than other countries. Therefore, educators should expect to see a return on their efforts in three years. “Success is slow but it comes in big volumes,” said one delegate. “The most important thing to know about marketing in China is form over function,” he added. “China wants only the best of the best.”

The StudyWorld workshop is held in London every year.  This year marks its 10th anniversary. The event is attended by some 300 agents and 220 schools from around 60 countries.