However, the changes emphasise the differences between Tier 4 (General) and Tier 4 (Child), with the latter being considerably more advantageous for independent school pupils.
Tier 4 (Child) student category is for children aged between four and 17 years of age who come to the UK to study at an independent fee-paying school. When a pupil reaches the age of 16 or 17, they can either apply to come to the UK or for further leave, as a Tier 4 (Child) or as a Tier 4 (General), after the school has checked the eligibility of the pupil to come to the UK and assigned the appropriate Confirmation of Studies (CAS). But if they apply as a Tier 4 (Child) student, they do not have to show academic progression or ability in the English language.
A Tier 4 (Child) pupil's length of stay in the UK will depend on the pupil's age. If under 16 years, they will be given the length of stay requested, or the length of their course, or a maximum of six years. They are also granted an additional four months at the end of their course. As long as they remain a Tier 4 (Child), they can apply to extend their leave in the UK to continue studying.
If aged 16 or 17 years of age, a Tier 4 (Child) can be given leave for the length of their stay as requested, or length of their course, or three years, whichever is the shortest. They are also given an additional four months after the end of their course.
If the Tier 4 (Child) reaches the age of 18 years during their course, they can carry on with their course until their permission to be in the UK expires. If they want to do further study in the UK, they will have to apply under Tier 4 (General) ideally before their present leave expires.
When 16 and 17 year old overseas pupils sponsored under Tier 4 (Child) category are considering their future options, they will need to be aware of some changes to Tier 4 (General) that may affect their choices.
Under the new rules applicable to Tier 4 (General) visas, students are only now permitted to study at further education level (below degree level) for two years instead of three years. They will also not be able to extend their visas under Tier 4 in the UK unless they are studying at an 'embedded college', one which has a formal direct link to a university that is recognised by the Home Office.
Students of other institutions must leave the UK and apply from outside the UK. So a pupil studying at an independent school who needs to apply under Tier 4 (General), typically because they have turned 18 but have not yet completed their course, must now apply overseas.
The recent changes also highlight the need to ensure that schools are always using the latest guidance from UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) to ensure compliance with their sponsor duties. When there is a change to the Immigration Rules relating to Tier 4, the guidance for Tier 4 sponsors and pupils will also change, the latest version being November 2015. It is always best practice to check on-line at www.gov.uk/ for information rather than using printed guidance, to be sure of accessing the latest guidance. The penalty for getting things wrong is drastic, particularly if you have your licence revoked as you would not be able to reapply for a Tier 4 licence for a further two years.