Virginia, US
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| Naomi Goldshtein | Jonathan Hill

Preparing for Independent School Admission – Considerations and Complexities for Overseas Applicants in the UK.

As the spring term gets into full swing, independent schools will be hosting many nervous students as they prepare to undertake entrance exams to study at their chosen school in the UK. As part of this process overseas applicants and their parents will be attempting to understand the complexity of applying for the appropriate UK visa. This can be a stressful and daunting process with a number of different rules and guidance to take onboard.

The ISC Annual Census 2017 reports that there are over 50,000 overseas pupils attending independent schools in the UK, with demand for places continuing to increase. With just under 700 independent schools in the UK who are able to sponsor Tier 4 Child students, it is evident that the UK still remains an extremely attractive location for primary and secondary school education for non-EEA families.

Over the last twenty years, some UK independent schools have chosen to diversify their teaching offerings, facilitating co-educational environments resulting in a shift from the single sex study environment for which UK independent schools were renowned. This diversification has allowed students to attend prestigious schools that were formally off limits, thus expanding the competition between schools to attract the brightest and best students.

As independent schools look to consider such changes in their teaching offerings, we have been approached by many institutions that are looking to expand by offering sponsorship to international students. As the enrolment of international students can often be the school’s first experience of navigating the UK immigration system, it is clear from the steps taken by our clients that they wish to ensure that they and their international student population are equipped with the knowledge and understanding required to enter the UK under the Tier 4 scheme or an alternative category.

What visa does my child need to study in the UK?

For a child to study in the UK, the UK immigration system offers a variety of routes, and the route chosen in most scenarios is commonly dictated by the personal circumstances of the student and their family. Whatever those circumstances may be, we find the most common to be:

Tier 4 Child - A sponsored visa route for children aged between 4 and 17 to study in the UK;

Tier 4 General - A sponsored visa route for applicants aged 16 and above to study in the UK;

Short-term study – A non-sponsored visa route allowing temporary stay in the UK for up to 6 months to undertake a short period of study; or

PBS (Point Based System) Dependant – A visa route allowing individuals to remain in the UK on the basis of their immediate family of whom they are dependent upon, for example a Tier 1 Investor.

What are the common problems when applying for a Tier 4 Child visa?

We are approached by many families and schools to provide support and assistance throughout the Tier 4 visa process. Unfortunately, in some cases we are not approached until after an application has been lodged and we then assist with the refiling of an application following a refusal.

A refusal for a child’s Tier 4 application on credibility grounds is rare. We see refusals more commonly on the basis of supporting documentation. One key area this is linked to is evidencing the required funds to confirm that the applicant can afford their studies in the UK. The reason for this is that there are a number of different scenarios for a Tier 4 Child, which attract different requirements. This ultimately leads to confusion amongst students and their parents, and a common cause of unnecessary stress at an already anxious time for many families going through the process of an international move.

In January, the Tier 4 Guidance was updated to simplify the Tier 4 documentary requirements for those studying at an independent school allowing boarding students to evidence funds for the child’s school fees only (course fees plus board/lodging) for an academic year. However if the child is a non-boarding student the child, or their intended carer, is required to demonstrate that they have available funds to cover school fees for the first year and the associated maintenance costs for each month of their course, up to a maximum of 9 months.

 Can I travel with my child to the UK as a Parent?

If a child is aged under the age of 12, a parent can apply to accompany them to the UK as a Parent of a Tier 4 Child. If a child is aged over 12 years, a parent can apply to enter the UK for a short period as a Visitor to accompany them to the UK however this visa will be limited to a maximum of 6 months in any 12 months and all work will be prohibited. Alternatively, for parents of children over 12 who want to spend longer periods in the UK, they can consider a Tier 1 Investor or Entrepreneur visa. This will enable the child to apply as a dependant and possibly benefit from long-term status in the UK.

Can my child live with me, their parent, in the UK whilst holding a Tier 4 Child visa?

Fragomen’s Tier 4 team have witnessed an increased number of visa refusals where a Tier 4 Child intends to live with their own parent(s) in the UK. This has become an increasingly complicated area and a scenario not currently recognised under the UK Immigration Rules. Although there has been some success and in certain circumstances applicants have been granted Tier 4 Child status on a discretionary basis, discretion is applied inconsistently. Therefore this approach should be carefully scrutinized before embarking on an application under such circumstances.  

Justification behind such a refusal is often on the grounds that should a Tier 4 Child live in the UK with their parents, this should be on the basis of holding the status of PBS Dependant. Alternatively, if the parents have no independent status of their own, the child must be accompanied by a parent who holds a Parent of a Tier 4 child visa. This is however, only applicable, for  Tier 4 Child applicants up to the age of 12 years.

A solution for Tier 4 Child applicants aged 16 or 17 years is to submit their application on the basis of living independently. The credibility of this approach is questionable, as the child will be living with their family. However for those aged between 12 to 15 years of age the Immigration Rules prevent a Tier 4 child living with a parent unless it can be evidenced that the child is also living with a close relative (grandparent, sibling, step-parent, aunt or uncle) for which the application can be based.

This aspect of the rules is a common area of misconception and has been a hot topic with the UKVI for some time. Although no changes have been made to allow for such living arrangements, in the recent Tier 4 Policy changes, this still continues to be an area of discussion with the UKVI.

Update – Immigration Health Surcharge

The UK government has announced plans to double the immigration health surcharge later this year for Tier 4 visa applicants. Please see Fragomen Alerts for further details.

If you require any further information regarding visa entry routes for study purposes please contact;