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UK business visa rules deterring “thousands” of students

Language schools and business schools say they are losing thousands of pounds in fees due to restrictions on business visas which disallow holders to study short courses during visits to the UK. However, the Home Office has told The PIE News it is aware of the concerns and will consider the views of “visitors and educational establishments”.

The London School of English says that students for business and professional English language courses are being deterred by current visa rules

Business English UK members say they are losing 10-150 potential students a year

Currently those from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) who want to conduct business in the UK must apply for the Business Visitor Visa (BVV), but cannot take general study courses of any kind during their visit. Furthermore, many are unaware of the rules and frequently find themselves caught out; British businesses are suffering, too.

The law does allow business visa holders to concurrently hold a Student Visitor Visa (SVV) – required for short-term courses – but many are unaware this is possible. In addition, visitors can only enter the UK on one of their visas, meaning they must leave the UK and return if they want to switch – something busy professionals are disinclined to do.

Cambridge Academy potentially loses a “five figure” sum through the rules annually

“It’s crazy that you’re allowed to come in on a multiple entry business visa for business reasons as many times as you want in a year, but you can’t study an accredited course whilst on that visa,” Mark Waistell, of Accent International Language Consultancy, told The PIE. “It costs us about £10,000 a year in lost fees.”

The problem is being keenly felt in the English language sector, where according to estimates anywhere between 4% and 10% of all students take business English courses, which are geared towards professional use. Business English UK (an arm of English UK) said its 20 member schools were each losing between 10 and 150 students a year.

Business English courses also carry higher price tags – costing between £200 to £2,000 a week – although some business professionals may want to take general English courses during a trip, too, hiding the full extent of lost trade.

John Barnett of Cambridge Academy of English said he potentially lost a “five figure” sum through the rules annually. He said another problem was that the rules were not well communicated by agents or the border agency. This meant customers could arrive in the UK with the wrong visa and be unable to study.

“The less experienced agents and also company HR departments might get confused and think training for an employee is business, so it must be a business visa that they need,” he said.

“Once we’ve got the paperwork and realise the mistake has been made, it needs to be re-processed, a new visa application needs to be made, and that can drag on. There is then the danger that the employee may abandon the course.”

“A new visa application needs to be made, and that can drag on…the employee may abandon the course”

In a striking example of how much this can cost, The London School of English, which has one campus dedicated to business and professional English, had to tell a Kazakh businessman on arrival that he could not study, jeopardising an 11-week booking worth £18,000. The client’s lawyers had misunderstood the rules, but fortunately he was willing to fly home to rectify the mistake before returning.

Hauke Tallon, MD, believes many such customers simply “pick up the phone and call another school” in the hope they will turn a blind eye – a risk that his, and many other good schools, are unwilling to take. [More>>]

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