Immigration Minister Damian Green and UK Border Agency Chief Executive Lin Homer undertook to work with English UK and its members to look for alternative solutions to maintaining the controversial language requirement for visa-national students on English language courses.
On Monday 26 July, the Minister and Lin Homer met a delegation of language school industry experts and MPs representing constituencies where the local economy depends upon overseas students coming to the UK to learn English.
Mr Green and Ms Homer undertook to have “detailed discussions” about the case put forward during the meeting by English UK, which represents 440 fully-accredited language centres.
The Home Office originally introduced the B1 requirement (equivalent to a top-grade GCSE) in March but was forced to drop it back to A1 (basic English) on July 9, following a High Court judgement that said the rules had not been put before Parliament as legally required. The B1 level was restored on Friday 23 July when the Home Office introduced new Immigration Rules, which MPs are challenging.
Tony Millns, Chief Executive of English UK, put forward two simple suggestions to replace the B1 language requirement for English language students.
“Most UK education experts would say that the best indicator of ability to follow a course successfully is past academic achievement – which is why we have so many tests and exams in this country. We suggest therefore that the best indicator for English language students is that they reasonably recently completed high school education in their own country, equivalent to what we have here as Year 12, usually AS level.
“Second, we understand that UKBA has a risk profile for every country. This opens the possibility that the existing general educational level required of students applying for English language courses could be higher for countries which are judged to be high risk, and lower for low risk countries.”
Mr Millns said the current rules were damaging a successful business sector and were not supported by any evidence that students on lower-level courses were likelier to disappear or overstay.
While many of the other changes which came with the points-based visa system had positively transformed the system, he said the language rule was “deeply damaging” for the sector.
Language schools were cutting staff hours and state providers were halting courses. This was having a detrimental effect on the economy.
Ultimately, numbers of overseas students enrolling at UK universities would fall because 46% of students applying to universities are here already on English language and foundation year courses, creating a knock-on effect for British universities.
In conclusion, Mr Millns said: “I am going back to the Home Office tomorrow for more discussions and to give information to feed into the review of the student visa system which the Minister has already begun. For the good of the sector and the UK economy, we need to get this sorted out quickly. We welcome the UKBA offer to engage constructively in considering alternatives to the B1 rule.”
The delegation of MPs outside the Home Office: left to right, Andrew Slaughter (Hammersmith), Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne), Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion), Simon Kirby (Brighton Kemptown), Tony Millns (English UK CEO), Andrew Smith (Oxford East), Conor Burns (Bournemouth West), Steve Brine (Winchester), and Adrian Sanders (Torbay). Julian Huppert (Cambridge) attended the meeting but is not in the photo.