In July 2016 the Home Office began a pilot scheme to help simplify the visa application process for students applying for a Tier 4 visa to study on a Masters course in the UK. Four Universities were selected to participate in the scheme: Cambridge; Oxford; Imperial College London and Bath. The premise behind the scheme was to ensure UK universities remain competitive across the rest of the world and ultimately attract and retain highly-skilled international talent.
The scheme was specifically aimed at international students wishing to study on a Masters course of 13 months or less in the UK. The incentive was a more streamlined application process and an additional grant of 4 to 6 months leave to remain following the completion of their course.
Extending the Scheme
On 18 December 2017 the Immigration Minister announced that the scheme will be extended to a further 23 UK universities. As before, this means students applying for a Tier 4 visa to enable MA studies in the UK will experience a more efficient application process. Applicants will not be required to submit financial evidence or previous academic qualifications. The Home Office will reserve the right to request these documents; consequently applicants should be prepared to provide them if required. The additional 6 months added to their Tier 4 status will provide greater scope to students who are keen to seek employment or apply for further studies in the UK.
Tier 2 Switch
Students who obtain a job offer from an employer with a sponsor licence will be permitted to switch their visa to Tier 2 (General) from inside the UK once they have completed their course. The job on offer must be at Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) Level 6 and meet the minimum salary threshold of £20,800 or the appropriate rate for the job, whichever is higher. UK employers are exempt from conducting the Resident Labour Market Test within the settled workforce before offering Tier 2 sponsorship to qualifying students.
The expansion of the scheme is a positive move for International students, UK universities and UK employers. The pilot has been compared to the Tier 1 (Post study work) route, which closed in 2012. That route granted graduate students a 2 year visa to explore their employment opportunities and further study options in the UK. This pilot scheme was set to run for 2 years. The Home Office will carry out an independent evaluation to test the aims of the pilot, issuing a final report in the spring of 2019.