I don't know if there are any immigration lawyers who mourn the end of the Tier 4 category, but I certainly don't - I always found it to be like walking on treacle, extremely difficult to navigate a path from one end to the other. So I have been looking forward with pleased anticipation to the new Student category that replaces Tier 4, because it can't be as convoluted... can it?
Eligibility vs. Validity
The new student rules are spread across five appendices to the Immigration Rules, which is, I suppose, an improvement on the eight appendices that Tier 4 was spread over. Many of the requirements remain the same, but some that used to be eligibility requirements - to be eligible for the visa you had to meet these requirements - are now validity requirements - for your application to be valid, you need to meet these requirements. On the face of it this may not seem like a big deal, but it is - if your application is refused your immigration status would have been protected under section 3c of the Immigration Act 1971, so that you remained in the UK legally while it was being processed. If your application is rejected as invalid, you have no such protection and you would be in the UK without leave (or, as the new rules now call it, 'permission to stay') which can have severe consequences for any future applications.
With the Brexit transition period ending on 31 December 2020, EEA nationals wishing to study in the UK will now also need to apply for student visas. Though the Student category is now officially open, EEA nationals applying from within the UK will only be able to do so from 01 January 2021, and if applying from overseas, visas would only be issued to begin from 01 January 2021. All EEA countries, as well as Switzerland, have been added to the list of countries with "different" - that is, easier - evidential requirements.
- There is no longer an eight year limit to the time a person can spend studying post-graduate courses
- An entry clearance application can be made up to six months before the course starts
- It is easier to switch to a student visa from within the UK - this is now open to everyone expect people who are in the UK as visitors, short-term students, parents of a child student, seasonal workers, domestic workers in a private household or with leave outside the Immigration Rules
- Ireland and Malta have been added to the list of English speaking countries
- A GCSE, A level or Scottish Highers in English obtained in the UK before the age of 18 are sufficient to meet the English language requirements
- Maintenance funds must be held in cash in an instantly accessible account, with a financial institution that uses electronic record keeping
- People who have been living legally in the UK for 12 months or more at the date of their application, Student Union Sabbatical Officers, and students on a recognised Foundation Programme will not be required to meet the financial requirements
So are the new rules a radical change, or same old - same old? There doesn't appear to be much substantive change - more a tweaking of the old rules.