With the government’s intention to reduce immigration substantially by 2015, the recent changes made in April to Tier 4 of the points-based immigration system could pose a potential threat to the stability of the international student visa scheme.

Although encouraging modifications have been observed, the amendments made to the visa applications and their costs could deter many international students from studying in the UK.

The proposed changes made by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) include a rise in the fees for international student visa applications. For example, a Tier 4 ‘in person’ application has increased by £65, with the new cost totalling £781.

Furthermore, a postal application has increased from £394 to £406. These increased fees, along with the newly implemented interview procedures and changes to the CAS application, (such as being unable to study at a lower level than your CAS states) mean a possible decline in the submissions of international student’s applications.

Such a decline could mean a serious downturn in funding for many universities, especially those with a high number of international students. The University of Nottingham (UON), for example, is composed of around 6,673 international students, making up around 20% of the total number of students.

It is reported that the amount of revenue earned last year from overseas students was £185m, thus clearly providing UON, and surely many other universities, with a substantial and crucial amount of income.

A decline, as has been seen with the 40% decrease in international applications at another institution, could leave many universities in serious danger of severe financial implications, or even possible closure.

However, it would seem that contrary to the expectation of a decline in international students, ‘statistical indicators are positive’, meaning little is likely to change in the volume of applicants. A spokesman for UON has therefore stated that ‘we are not expecting a significant downturn in the number of international students taking up places with us this year’.

Additional, more positive changes have also been implemented, giving further reason to remain optimistic. UON thus commented that, “we have also seen opportunities for international students to work in the UK following their studies being extended in certain areas”.

The introduction of the Doctorate Extension Scheme (DES) is an example of the sorts of opportunities available to international students. The DES means that PhD students (after completing their course) can now apply to stay in the UK for an extended 12 months ‘to find skilled work or to set up as an entrepreneur’.

Nevertheless, despite the optimism reported by UON and the implementation of the DES, the implications of the changes made to student visas may not be fully realised as the full impact is too early to predict.

In addition, if the government adheres to reducing immigration by 2015, we may see further modifications initiated, possibly affecting the number of applicants considerably in the future.

Amy Hall

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