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English Language Students (Entry Clearance)

Volume 520: debated on Monday 13 December 2010

Under tier 4 of the points-based system, institutions are currently required to ensure their students have a prior knowledge of English at a minimum of B1 level on the common European framework of reference for languages. Competence in English language is a key indicator of a student’s ability and motivation to follow a course of study. In the consultation on the reform of the student immigration system, the Government therefore propose that minimum level for tier 4 is raised further to B2—an upper-intermediate level of competence.

I recognise these current arrangements, as well as those proposed, do not meet the special needs of the English language sector. These lower-level courses can be offered through the student visitor route. Leave under this route is limited to six months. The English language sector has represented to me that in some cases, they wish to offer courses of longer duration.

Therefore I have agreed to put in place a temporary measure that will allow English language students on a longer-duration course to be given leave to enter as student visitors for a period not exceeding 11 months.

To enter under this route for the extended period, English language students will need to obtain entry clearance at a British mission overseas in advance of travel, whether they are a visa national or non-visa national, and furnish evidence of the duration of the course. Other requirements, entitlements and restrictions will remain the same as the current student visitor visa. Students will not be entitled to work, sponsor dependants or switch into other routes including tier 4 of the points-based system. Students will have to satisfy the entry clearance officer that they genuinely intend to study, to leave the UK at the end of their studies and can support themselves during their stay. Full details of the route and how students can qualify will be published in guidance on the UK Border Agency website. Students will be able to apply from 10 January 2011.

This concession is intended to create flexibility to allow legitimate English language colleges to continue to offer opportunities to genuine students. I shall monitor closely the practical impact to ensure that it does not become a loophole, and take a decision on making it permanent in due course. English language students will continue to be able to study under tier 4 of the points-based system, as now, where they meet the requirements.