Passengers leaving the UK on scheduled commercial international air, sea and rail routes through any airport or port are subject to the checks, which began on 8 April.
“If a Tier 4 sponsor says ‘I truly believe a student has left the country’, the Home Office should be able to come back and say ‘yes, you’re right, this student has left the country’”
The data collected will provide authorities with “the most comprehensive picture we have ever had of whether those who enter the UK leave when they are supposed to”, according to Home Office guidance.
“The information will improve our ability to identify and further tighten the immigration routes and visas that are most vulnerable to abuse,” it adds.
As well as helping the Home Office to identify international students who have overstayed their Tier 4 visas, the exit checks, where recorded, may also benefit Tier 4 visa sponsor institutions by making it easier to prove that students have left the country, according to Pat Saini, Partner and Head of Immigration at Penningtons Manches LLP.
In the past where there was a query about whether or not a student who was no longer enrolled on a course had left the country or overstayed their visa, providers have sometimes been forced to make contact with students via social networks or obtain a copy of a student’s re-entry stamp upon arriving home in order to prove that they had returned, she told The PIE News.
“For those purposes, if a Tier 4 sponsor says ‘I truly believe a student has left the country’, the Home Office should be able to come back and say ‘yes, you’re right, we have these checks and this student has left the country’,” Saini said.
Until now, the majority of visitors to the UK have been subject to entry checks but there have been few exit checks in place, making it difficult to track how many of those who enter the UK remain in the country.
“This will result in a considerable saving in staff time and resource,” commented Gareth Evans, academic and placement director at pathway provider Northern Corsortium UK. “In addition to this, it will mean that the Home Office will have better and more consistent data on student movement pre and post-study.”
The Home Office has estimated that it will add just 30 seconds to processing each passenger at airports
“As an organisation that works with 17 leading UK universities, NCUK welcomes any initiative that relieves them of the responsibility of having to provide evidence that an international student has left the UK following completion of their studies,” he told The PIE News.
The Home Office may use the information to target individuals who have overstayed their visas using powers introduced under the Immigration Act 2014, such as removing driving licences or preventing people from opening bank accounts, it said.
“The checks will also improve national security by helping the police and security services track the movements of known or suspected criminals and terrorists, supporting the wider work across government and law enforcement agencies,” it added.
Education providers and immigration lawyers have been advocating for exit checks for some years and the change is likely to be well received across the board, although there has been some concern that it may deter business visitors if checks lead to travel delays.
However, the Home Office has stressed that it has made every effort to minimise the impact to travellers and has estimated that it will add just 30 seconds to processing each passenger at airports.