Tier 4 Interviews…are you prepared?

As we reported in our News section last week, the Home Office has recently announced that a targeted interview system for Tier 4 (General) Students will be introduced by the UK Border Agency over the coming months.

A Statement of Change issued on the 9th July 2012 places this new interview system within the Immigration Rules.  We are told that the changes will make provision for an ECO to be satisfied that an applicant is a genuine student before granting entry clearance under Tier 4.  Additionally, there is the change to the general grounds for refusal of entry clearance which will provide for an ECO to refuse to issue entry clearance where the applicant fails to attend an interview without providing a reasonable explanation.

We understand that this announcement has been the cause of some anxiety for Tier 4 applicants, who are concerned that all international students will have to go through a rigorous interview process before being granted UK entry clearance.  In this blog we aim to provide a clear outline of the new scheme, examine data released regarding the pilot system and advise students of what (and what not!) to expect.

Background

A pilot interview scheme designed to test the effectiveness of interviewing Tier 4 applicants at the entry clearance stage, and to assess the need for possible additional powers of refusal in the Tier 4 visa category, ran from December 2001 to February 2012.  2,316 interviews were conducted in 13 overseas posts including Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Kenya, Pakistan and the USA, and applicants from 47 different countries were interviewed in total.

Over a sixth of the applicants interviewed were refused when the Entry Clearance Officers (ECOs) applied existing Tier 4 rules.  Of these, some could have been refused following an assessment of their documents only, but others could only be identified as failing to meet the requirements following an interview.

Key Figures to note

Of the 395 applications which were refused, 34% (137) were refused on maintenance grounds.  24% were refused through failure to meet the English language requirement and 23% were refused for having an invalid Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS).

Will you pass the Credibility test?

Through the pilot scheme, Entry Clearance Officers were able to test the intentions of some applicants although they did not have the powers to refuse applicants who they felt lacked credibility.  They concluded that 32% of applicants could potentially have been refused on credibility grounds, and the final data suggested that up to 44% of all applicants interviewed could potentially have been refused, had a credibility test been available in conjunction with additional interviewing under the current application process.

In reaching this conclusion, ECOs examined applicants’ intention to study their proposed course, intention to leave the UK at the end of the course, ability to maintain themselves and their dependants for the duration of the course, and ability to study the proposed course.

Future UK student visa applicants should note that the most important factors in assessing credibility were identified as genuine intention to study and intention to leave the UK. 

Applicants should be able to:

  1. Provide evidence of a good academic background (with explanation for any large gaps in studies);
  2. Demonstrate that they know which course they will be studying, what the course involves, and knowledge about the academic institution they will attend;
  3. Show that they have not been influenced by third parties when choosing the course or institution;
  4. Explain the academic progression offered by the course;
  5. Describe their plans on completion of studies;
  6. Evidence their economic circumstances.

What can Tier 4 student visa applicants expect?

From the 30th July, a Tier 4 student applying for entry clearance (i.e., applying from outside the UK) may be asked to attend an interview.  If you are asked to undertake the interview but fail to attend, don’t expect any sympathy from the ECOs – your application will be refused outright.

The guidance assures us that the application of the genuine student requirement will only be considered at interview in order to provide the applicant with every opportunity to demonstrate how he or she satisfies it, other than in certain limited circumstances set out in separate entry clearance guidance.  However, the genuine student requirement does not apply when the applicant is a national of one of the low risk countries specified in Appendix H of the Rules.

If things don’t go as expected, there is also the possibility for an applicant to request a review of their refusal following an interview.  The review will be conducted by an Entry Clearance Manager, but please bear in mind that you will only have 28 days from the date of the refusal notice to submit a review request.

If you are summoned for interview following a Tier 4 entry clearance application, top of your list should be ensuring that you have sufficient English language skills to meet the criteria.  You don’t need to be fluent, but you will need to be competent at a minimum of CEFR level B1 or B2 depending on the type of course you wish to study. 

Make sure you fully understand the requirements of the Tier 4 (General) category before you start gathering evidence for your application, and by the time you attend the interview you’ll be confident that you can’t be caught out.  Are you able to prove you have the requisite level of maintenance funds, that you’ve held them in your bank account for the stipulated period and that you keep your funds in an accepted financial institution?  Some of the guidance can be difficult to follow, particularly if English isn’t your first language, so if you’re even slightly unsure, you should seek professional advice.

Try not to be too nervous when you attend the interview.  If you’ve done your preparation, organised the necessary documents and you are genuinely coming to the UK to study, it shouldn’t be anything to be concerned about. 

What do you make of the new interview system?  Do you welcome it or is it just another strain on an already overloaded system?

 

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