As summer draws to an end and September looms, the UK is expected to receive applications for entry clearance and further leave to remain from hundreds of thousands of foreign students. Most recent available statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) confirm the number of non-UK students studying in the UK in 2017-18 was 458,490.
325,665 of these students were from non-EU countries, and so required to hold a Tier 4 Student visa in order to live and study here.
A Tier 4 student visa will be issued where:
- An applicant does not fall for refusal on ‘general grounds’- these include issues such as a poor criminal or immigration history;
- An applicant has an unconditional offer for a place on a course with a Tier 4 licensed Sponsor- this is demonstrated by the provision of a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (known as a ‘CAS’);
- An applicant can adequately maintain and accommodate themselves during their study in the UK;
- An applicant has suitable English language ability.
Figures from the HESA obviously reflect successful applicants only, meaning that the number of Tier 4 applications that UK Visas and Immigration are expected to process is in reality much higher. UKVI has already reported an increase in Tier 4 applications of 34% on last year, and even more are expected to come in the next few weeks before the start of term begins.
The Immigration Law Practitioners Association (ILPA) has expressed concerns over the Home Office’s ability to deal with the high number of in-country applications specifically, as third party contractor Sopra Steria appears to have no contingency plan in place. The outsourcing of application processing services to Sopra Steria, running the UK Visa and Citizenship Application Service (UKVCAS), has already proven to be problematic.
Sopra Steria initially promised a new streamlined service to make the UK visa application process quicker and easier than ever before. In truth, outsourcing has caused extra costs and delays for visa applicants of all categories, particularly students. Universities UK, an organisation representing British universities has expressed its own concerns about the service Sopra Steria is providing, citing the following problems in particular (https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/news/Pages/International-students-paying-through-the-nose-for-woefully-inadequate-document-checking-service-.aspx);
- Applicants are unable to get an appointment for at least two weeks, sometimes longer
- Applicants are having problems accessing and processing information online. If they have issues with the online system, the support line is charged at £2.50 per minute
- As a result, some students are paying to fast track their appointments and travelling to another Sopra Steria centre, often many miles away from where they live
- Many who are paying between £100 and £200 for premium appointments still cannot get an appointment and some are refused a refund of the money they pay for the premium service
- Accessibility issues with the service
With such poor reports of the system for students already in July of this year, and high numbers of student applications expected to be made in the final weeks before term starts, it is anticipated that these problems will continue, if not worsen. The Law Society, in conjunction with ILPA, plans to draft a letter to the Home Office highlighting the problems and requesting its response and action.
Considering the difficulties that students are already facing, and the high number of applications still expected in the next few weeks, it may be that any action from Sopra Steria will be too little, too late.
Our team at Latitude Law can provide valuable insight into the UK’s visa system, helping you to navigate an often obscure process. If you require advice or assistance regarding your Tier 4 application, then speak to one of our experts, call us now on 0161 234 6800 (Manchester and London offices) or 0151 305 9600 (Liverpool office).