Educational businesses - get to grips with immigration law

Through our professional adviser network we have access to UK immigration law specialists, and via our network of foreign lawyers we are able to provide immigration advice to our clients worldwide.  This article has been written by Sally Azarmi of Azarmi & Company Ltd.

The British education system has historically set the gold standard for the world and so not surprisingly has been a magnet for foreign students from across the globe. 

Statistics* from 2008/09 indicated the estimated total value of the UK’s education exports at £14.1 billion for that year with researchers looking at the output of a number of different arms of the educational exports sector: higher education; further education; English language schools; independent primary and secondary schools; overseas service of examination and professional bodies; education-related publishing, consultancy and equipment.  The value of higher education alone for 2008/09 was estimated at £7.9 billion.

So if you are in the business of education, foreign students should be a target to be attracted in any economic climate.  However, current immigration rules do not make studying in the UK a particularly attractive prospect.  Both student and institution have onerous rules and obligations to fulfil.  Whilst the fundamental changes to the immigration rules over the last few years have undoubtedly reduced bogus applicants, there is a balance to be struck to ensure that the opportunities and economic gains to be had are not wiped out by rules which both deter the international student and place time consuming and costly compliance duties on educational institutions.

In 2013, the Chief Executive of Universities reported a significant drop in the number of students applying from overseas, particularly from India, Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia, supporting the June 2011 Guardian prediction that the foreign student crackdown will cost the economy £2.4 billion.  GOV.UK immigration statistics show that in the 12 months to September 2013, only 216,895 study related visas were issued in comparison with over 300,000 during the year ending March 2010.  There have also been significant falls in students from India and Pakistan but also, more positively, marked increases in students from Brazil (133%), Iraq (70%) and Libya (96%). 

Both the decline in numbers and the shift in the nationalities of the students presents a greater challenge for educational institutions.  However, rather than being deterred from exporting their services, establishments that wish to gain competitive advantage in the UK and internationally can do so by establishing robust systems to cope with the requirements of the immigration rules and focussing on attracting students from those countries that are increasingly turning to the UK for the education of their youth and workforce.

“Immigration” elements of a successful foreign student recruitment strategy should mean that:

  1. robust compliance systems are identified and in place;
  2. a good understanding of the immigration rules and regular changes is achieved and responsibility within the institution identified and allocated; and 
  3. risks are identified and managed, e.g. by way of well drafted terms and conditions and exclusion clauses in relation to an institution’s liability to the student and the student’s responsibilities in relation to their immigration status.

This investment is time consuming and costly but the rewards are worth it both in terms of the financial gains to the education sector and the British economy, and the long term political, social and economic ties that education engenders between the UK and the rest of the world.

* BIS report, “Estimating the Value to the UK of Education Exports”

Sally Azarmi
0203 178 4274

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.