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UK will drop accepted visa refusal threshold to 10%

Universities and colleges in the UK may lose their Tier 4 licence to recruit internationally if more than 10% of the overseas students they recruit are refused visas, it was announced today, as part of an ongoing Home Office crackdown on immigration and visa abuse.

"Today we are announcing a further step to make sure colleges do proper checks on students," David Cameron wrote. Image: DFID.

All private and public universities, colleges and schools on the Tier 4 sponsor register will be affected

“From November, tougher rules will be imposed on universities and colleges who sponsor international students to study in the UK,”  the Home Office announced today on its website.

“[The accepted refusal rate] will be cut to 10% in November after a 3 month transitional period for colleges and universities to re-examine their admissions procedures before offering individuals places.”

“The move is unfortunate and largely unnecessary and we obviously regret it”

All private and public universities, colleges and schools on the Tier 4 sponsor register will be affected, though UKVI will take a “discretionary approach” to institutions which recruit 50 or fewer international students a year, the new guidance states.

In an article for The Telegraph published online last night, Prime Minister David Cameron wrote that controlling immigration is a “vital part” of the government’s economic strategy and cited its closure of more than 750 bogus colleges as an example of how it is “clamping down on abuses” of the system.

“Some of the most egregious examples were those new arrivals claiming to be students, enrolling at bogus colleges,” he said. “Today we are announcing a further step to make sure colleges do proper checks on students: if 10% of those they recruit are refused visas, they will lose their licence.”

However, education associations have raised concerns about the impact of the changes on smaller institutions.

“Using visa refusal rates as a measure to determine the future of a sponsor’s Highly Trusted Sponsor status is a blunt mechanism and could also have a disproportionate impact on smaller institutions,” a spokesperson for Universities UK said, while Dominic Scott, CEO of the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), said that the “draconian” measures could put some at risk of closure.

“Refusal rates are often out of the control on an institution as students can have visas refused either on subjective ‘credibility’ grounds or just for a missing or incorrect piece of paperwork,” Scott told The PIE News. “The fear is also that further education colleges – who are often the pipeline into our universities – may be particularly hit by this.”

“The vast majority of education institutions are nowhere near that refusal rate. But some are: which gives rise to considerable concerns about those institutions”

“The move is therefore unfortunate and largely unnecessary and we obviously regret it,” he added.

Administrative errors will be excluded from the permitted refusal rate, according to the guidance.

Immigration Minister James Brokenshire indicated his intention to reduce the permitted refusal rate in March, in his first speech after coming to office, calling the 20% of visa refusals institutions are allowed “too generous”.

“The vast majority of education institutions are nowhere near that refusal rate,” he said. “But some are: which gives rise to considerable concerns about those institutions and their approach.”

Scott said that UKCISA told the Home Office when consulted that it “did not see the necessity” of the new measures and raised concerns about the disproportionate impact on smaller institutions.

Read more: UK sector responds to 10% rule – T4 latest.

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