What is the change? Under new Immigration Rules announced July 13 and enforceable beginning Aug. 3, new non-European students studying at publicly funded further-education (FE) colleges in Britain will lose their right to work, which under current rules allows up to 10 hours per week. Further, the maximum term available for visas to study at FE colleges will be cut from three years to two, and students at these colleges will no longer be allowed to switch to a Tier 2 work visa or extend their Tier 4 study visa while in the U.K., and must leave at the end of their study.

What does the change mean? Employers should be aware that many of these new rules will take force starting Aug. 3 and will potentially impact their ability to recruit foreign students, graduates and interns.

  • Implementation time frame: Changes affecting students’ right to work will take effect on Aug. 3 and new maintenance rules on Nov. 12.
  • Visas/permits affected: Tier 4 student visas, Tier 2 work visas.
  • Who is affected: Non-EU students at the FE college level (i.e. pre-university) and employers recruiting foreign students and graduates.
  • Impact on processing times: Tier 4 student visa processing times will not be affected. Employers will notice an impact when hiring students for long-term stays on a Tier 2 work visa – it will no longer be possible to switch from within the U.K., but must be processed in the visa applicant’s home country (where timing varies considerably).
  • Business impact: The rules will impact the ability of employers to hire affected foreign college students.
  • Next steps: Employers who rely significantly on Tier 4 students or internship programs for their labor needs should work with their BAL attorney to determine the impact on their business and to provide feedback to the Home Office if necessary.

Background: The latest Statement of Changes to the U.K.’s Immigration Rules introduces numerous limitations to the Tier 4 student category for foreign students from outside the European Union. (Tier 4 students apparently accounted for 121,000 immigrants to the U.K. in 2014, a net influx of 70,000 and an area of considerable immigration abuse.)

The changes apply to FE colleges – educational institutions offering a range of vocational and access courses, typically for students ages 16 to 19, either prior to or at a lower level than undergraduate or post-graduate study at universities. In recent years there has been a focus on preventing abuse at privately funded and often “bogus” colleges (where English language courses were the predominant course of study), and these rules extend the work restriction to non-EU students at publicly funded FE colleges and to those studying for A-levels, international baccalaureates or vocational qualifications prior to or instead of university entry level.

Crucially, this rule does not apply to university students who will continue to be able to work 20 hours a week during their school term and full-time during official holidays, during which period they typically undertake internships.

In particular, the changes mean:

  • New college students at publicly funded FE colleges (or private colleges) will no longer be allowed to work in the U.K. The previous rule that allowed work for 10 hours during school terms and full-time during holidays has been removed.
  • College students will not be allowed to switch to a Tier 2 work visa or any other points-based route, or to extend their Tier 4 study visa while in the U.K. They must leave at the end of their visa term.
  • College students will be prevented from FE study of more than two-year durations. The maximum visa has been reduced from three years to two.
  • University students (as distinct from college students) will be restricted from extending their studies at the same level in different courses than their existing study.
  • There will be protection for students at embedded courses at the college level that are designed to feed into a higher university education institution.

The changes will also:

  • Increase the maintenance requirements for Tier 4 (General) and Tier 4 (Child) students.
  • Expand the geographic area in which Tier 4 students have to demonstrate a higher maintenance requirement for London to include the University of London or institutions wholly or partly within the area comprising the City of London and the former Metropolitan Police District.
  • Apply the same maintenance requirements to all Tier 4 (General) students, regardless of whether they are already living in the U.K., except Doctorate Extension Scheme students.
  • Make all time spent in the U.K. as a Tier 4 student count toward Tier 4 time limits.
  • Allow university students to extend their studies at the same academic level, but only if the course is linked to the previous course and the university confirms that the course supports the student’s genuine career aspirations.
  • Allow a Tier 4 visa to be issued in line with a student’s intended date of travel (for ease of biometric card collection).
  • Require that Tier 4 (Child) Students be sponsored by independent schools only (which does not include academies).
  • Prevent conversions to Tier 2 and Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) by Tier 4 (Child) Students who are granted leave after the changes come into force or who were already in the U.K. and not sponsored by a higher education institution in receipt of public funding from specified bodies.
  • Prohibit Tier 4 migrants from studying at academies or schools maintained by a local authority.

BAL Analysis: Despite the contributions of foreign students to the U.K. economy, the overall political will favoring reduced net migration has spurred ever stronger reforms to the student category. The new rules are part of an overall strategy to tighten the student routes and prevent “career students” from studying successive unrelated courses while also accessing the U.K. labor market. The changes are designed to crack down on visa fraud and ensure that foreign students come to the U.K. purely to study and have a clear intention to depart, rather than to seek entry into the U.K. labor force.

“Immigration offenders want to sell illegal access to the U.K. jobs market, and there are plenty of people willing to buy,” Home Office Minister James Brokenshire has said. “Hardworking taxpayers who are helping to pay for publicly funded colleges expect them to be providing top-class education, not a backdoor to a British work visa.”

These restrictions will impact employers, particularly in service industries and the retail sector who frequently rely on student labor, and those offering graduate programs and summer or Easter internships for students as a precursor to U.K. employment where school leavers are a potential target. The loss of a right to work in the U.K. can only be seen as a disincentive for international students choosing where to study and a further restriction (albeit not fatal) on employers looking for the “best and brightest” from a global talent pool.

Another repercussion of the new rules is that Tier 4’s will be subject to employers’ restricted certificates of sponsorship, putting additional pressure on quotas during the summer months.

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group in the United Kingdom. For additional information, please contact

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