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UK Visitor Visa categories will consolidate, become more flexible

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

Many ELT providers from the UK were in London this week to attend the seminars and business meetings set up by English UK

15 short-term visitor visa categories will be decreased to just three; “most being absorbed into the ‘visitor’ route”

Speaking at the StudyWorld fair in London this week, Pamnani told delegates that the 15 short-term visitor visa categories will be decreased to just three; “most being absorbed into the ‘visitor’ route”.

Visa holders will be given more flexibility for the activities allowed under each visa, including work or study, he added.

And in 2015, the government plans to rebrand the Student Visitor Visa (SVV) – which allows students to study up to six months or up to 11 months on the Extended SVV (ESVV) – as the “short-term study” visa.

“The name will change but the criteria will remain the same,” said Pamnani.

He also said that a cheaper version of the £8,000 per year Premium Service could be announced by April next year. This service enables education institutions to pay to expedite processes, with 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 who deal with a lower volume of students. 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”

It’s an uncertain time for the international education sector as the government cracks down on visa fraud and student immigration 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, including the recent decrease from 20% to 10% for  visa refusal rates, means providers are forced to compromise their business practices.

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

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

vetrakOther insight from the pre-workshop seminar came from market intelligence reports for China. According to Student Marketing, 87% of Chinese parents are willing to pay for study abroad experience.

Of the students going abroad, 60% are using agents and about 30% of those agents are proficient in English, explained CEO Samuel Vetrak.

At the moment, higher education is dominating demand, but the ELT market is beginning to increase, despite only about 5-10% of agents having experience in selling these types of programmes.

30% of those agents in China are proficient in English

Lead times are longer in China than other countries and Vetrak advised educators to expect to see a return on their efforts in three years. “Success is slow but it comes in big volumes,” he explained.

“The most important thing to know about marketing in China is form over function,” he added. “China wants only the best of the best.”

Held in London for the past eight years, the 2014 StudyWorld workshop hosted some 300 agents and 220 schools from around 60 countries.

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