On 15 June, the Home Office published changes to the Immigration Rules affecting a wide range of immigration categories. The changes, which come into force on 6 July, included adding 11 new countries to the list of those considered to be 'low risk' and therefore not required to submit the same volume of evidence as is required by applicants from countries not on that list. The most notable addition to that list is China, the most popular country of origin of the approximately 100,000 foreign-national students sponsored by UK education providers under Tier 4 of the Points-Based System.
Students from countries on the list of 'low risk' countries (contained in Appendix H of the Immigration Rules) are not required to submit evidence of their previous qualifications or of the funds they need to support themselves and pay the balance of their course fees. Omission of such documents, where they are required, will most likely lead to refusal of the student's visa application. Relaxation of these requirements is likely to lead to lower refusal rates and may even help recruitment of foreign students previously put off by reports of petty visa refusals caused by failure to submit documents in precisely the required format.
In addition to China, the other nationalities added to the list of 'low risk' countries are Bahrain, Cambodia, Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Kuwait, the Maldives, Mexico, Serbia, Thailand as well as holders of Macau SAR passports. The list already includes countries such as Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia and the USA.
Universities sponsoring students from these 'low risk' countries are expected to have satisfied themselves that all of the relevant requirements have been satisfied, so it is important that universities continue to have robust systems in place for ensuring that the relevant documents are retained and accessible in the event of an audit by UKVI.
Another change likely to be of interest to HEIs is the introduction of a new Tier 5 Exchange Scheme. The UKRI – Science, Research and Academia scheme will replace the Sponsored Scientific Researcher Initiative and aims to provide expanded provisions for enabling overseas researchers to come to the UK, promoting international collaboration, knowledge exchange and skills transfer.