Changes to UK student visa applications

I HAVE been in Zimbabwe for the past few weeks. After an absence of four 
years, I was shocked by the state of general decay - from the 
infrastructure, the roads to the complete collapse of the education system.

Our education system in Zimbabwe was our pride, one of the best in Africa. 
It now faces immense challenges. Public financing of the sector continues to 
dwindle in real terms, school fees is soaring beyond the reach of many, 
depletion of educators and low morale owing to poor salaries for the 
remaining teachers have unravelled past successes in the sector.
The crisis has not spared tertiary education which saw all major State 
Universities failing to open for the first semester of the 2008/2009 
academic year which was supposed to resume last August. The medical school 
remains closed. University students that I had the opportunity to speak to 
were demoralised and uncertain about their future.
Many parents have resorted to sending their children abroad to study. Some 
students are even resorting to study in countries like Malawi to complete 
their degrees – such is the state of our education.
The United Kingdom has always been a favourite destination for many 
Zimbabwean students. The immigration rules have historically been very 
difficult to meet. The rules required that students should show an intention 
to return to their home country.
How does one show that they intend to return? This was subjective and often 
abused by entry clearance officers. Applications for Student Visas will now 
be dealt with under Tier 4 of the new points-based system.
All universities and colleges that wish to recruit foreign students will 
require a sponsor licence and all students will require a licensed sponsor. 
These new stricter rules are designed to protect the UK’s labour market and 
ensure that students and their educational establishments are legitimate and 
adhere to these new legal requirements.
For example, under these new rules, before students can apply to study in 
the UK, they will need to:
* provide their fingerprints;
* prove a track record in their studies;
* meet a minimum level of qualification;
* demonstrate that they can support themselves (and any dependants) 
The Home Office also expects to tighten the rules even further later this 
year by introducing a "sponsor management system" which will enable the 
licensed educational establishments to inform the UK Border Agency if 
students do not enrol in their course or skip more than ten sessions. More 
information can be found HERE.
The requirement to have the educational institutions licensed will protect 
many foreign students who have been victims to bogus colleges. As an 
immigration lawyer, I have witnessed many Zimbabweans whose lives have been 
ruined by these "bogus colleges". Many people arrived in the UK with the 
intention to pursue a course of study but fell into the hands of these bogus 
colleges and in addition to losing thousands of pounds, their hope of 
staying lawfully in this country was destroyed.
Under the current system, entry clearance refusals can be challenged on 
appeal and the case heard before an independent Immigration Judge at the 
Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (AIT).
Under Tier 4, students will no longer have a right of appeal against an 
entry clearance refusal. The right of appeal is being replaced by an 
‘administrative review’ by an Entry Clearance Manager.
The UKBA argue that because decisions under Tier 4 will be more transparent, 
clear-cut and based only on factual information, there is no need for an 
appeal system. Entry Clearance Officers (ECO’s) will not, for instance, be 
able to refuse on ‘intention’ to study or return home after completion of 
the course.
Should this prove to be the case, students applying for a visa under Tier 4 
could be more assured of a visa than under the current ‘hit and miss’ 
system. It is, however, very important to ensure that the initial 
application is submitted correctly and meets the required points under the 
Points Based System.
It will, hopefully, be easier for foreign students to undertake a course of 
study in this country. With many Zimbabweans having settled in this country, 
this remains a top destination for students. Hopefully, there will be a time 
when individuals who have gained an education in this country and have been 
exposed to the first world may be able to return and rebuild our nation.
Disclaimer: This article only provides general information and guidance on 
immigration law.. The specific facts that apply to your matter may make the 
outcome different than would be anticipated by you. The writer will not 
accept any liability for any claims or inconvenience as a result of the use 
of this information.
Rumbidzai Bvunzawabaya is a Solicitor at RBM Solicitors based in Coventry. 
She can be contacted at [email protected] or telephone: 02476243685

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