“Using visa refusal rates as a measure to determine the future of a sponsor’s HTS status is a blunt mechanism and could also have a disproportionate impact on smaller institutions,” a spokesperson for Universities UK (UUK) commented. “A student visa refusal does not always equate to a deliberate attempt to abuse the immigration rules.”
“Errors by entry clearance officers are common but can be stubbornly hard to correct”
Dominic Scott, CEO of the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), called the new measures “draconian’, saying that “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’.
Administrative errors will be excluded from the permitted refusal rate and a “discretionary” approach will apply to institutions with 50 or fewer international students, according to the guidance.
However, Alex Proudfoot, Association Manager of Study UK, an association of independent education institutions, said that this approach is “too narrow in scope, is too inconsistently applied, and gives little reassurance or comfort to institutions, their shareholders or trustees”.
“The Home Office has many tools at its disposal to tackle suspected abuse or non-compliance in the student visa system, and the visa refusal rate was already the bluntest and least fit for purpose,” he told The PIE News.
“Errors by entry clearance officers are common but can be stubbornly hard to correct,” he continued. “Subjective assessments are made of a student’s ‘credibility’ at interview, with questionable conclusions reached daily which cannot be appealed.”
An International Director at a UK university who asked not to be named told The PIE News: “We are concerned that a number of our refusals are mistakes by Home Office staff overseas… I think you’ll find a number of universities who are very concerned about this.”
“We are concerned that a number of our refusals are mistakes by Home Office staff overseas”
She added that the 10% rate is “cutting it quite fine” for the university, which usually has a refusal rate of 5-7%.
“This is just another nail in the coffin of what was once a flagship international education system,” she added.
Helen McClure, Associate Director at London’s City and Islington College, commented: “Any tightening of the visa regulations for publicly funded Further Education Colleges – who already have robust procedures in place to ensure not only that the students they recruit are genuine, but that the agencies they work with in market are well vetted – is a worry.”
McClure noted that as well as the financial impact on FE colleges, this could have a knock-on effect on international university student numbers as the majority of applicants are already studying in the UK.
English UK called for further industry consultation, with CEO Eddie Byers noting: “Every visa refusal can count against the record of the individual language centre, regardless of the reason… We don’t think that’s fair, particularly now that the margin for error is being reduced so dramatically, and at such short notice.”
“English UK cannot accept that our smaller members may be driven out of the market simply because of their size or the type of business they do,” he added.
However, James Pitman, Managing Director of Higher Education in UK and Europe at Study Group said that although the new rule “looks like bad news”, quality control is “vital” in the sector.
“If institutions ensure their recruitment procedures and education provisions are first rate, and UKVI follows through on its promise of a ‘discretionary approach’ to the smaller ones, then we don’t envisage it having a big impact on quality institutions’ ability to recruit excellent international students,” he said.
UUK’s spokesperson added: “For such a system to work, the Home Office must improve the feedback to universities on student visa refusals to ensure they can tackle any applications that are genuinely bogus and monitor their performance rigorously.”
Read more: UK will drop accepted visa refusal threshold to 10%.