Updated concessions for Students and sponsors and impacted by the Coronavirus

02 July 2021

Following yesterday’s announcement at the UKCISA conference by the Immigration Minister, Kevin Foster, we see the republication of the Covid guidance, “Student sponsors, migrants and short-term students”. 

This guidance includes important updates to yesterday’s announcement that the concessions relating to distance and blended learning, and the Graduate route, will be extended to help avoid a surge in travel and the associated resources needed to comply with quarantining measures, and help institutions manage the arrival of students.  

The guidance, updated on 2 July 2021, includes the following changes. 

Updates on blended and distance learning 

 The guidance provides definitions of both ‘distance learning’ and ‘blending learning’: 

  • “Distance learning is learning that takes place entirely remotely, without any face-to-face teaching or research activities on the sponsor’s sites” (paragraph 2.10)
  • “Blended learning requires students to be physically in the UK at least some of the time to attend their studies in person, whilst undertaking some study elements online” (paragraph 2.16)

It is acceptable to issue a CAS for a new course to a student who “will start studying through distance learning from overseas in the 2021-22 academic year, provided they transition to face-to-face learning when they arrive in the UK, which must be no later than by 06 April 2022” (paragraph 2.11). However, “if a student stops engaging with their distance learning for more than 30 days their sponsor must withdraw sponsorship” (paragraph 2.12).  

Until 27 September 2021, distance learning is acceptable: “Student sponsors can continue to sponsor Students or Child Students (including Tier 4 visa holders) who are continuing their studies through distance learning, whether they are in the UK or another country until 27 September 2021” (paragraph 2.10). And “sponsors are not required to withdraw sponsorship if an existing student is unable to return to the UK prior to 27 September 2021 due to travel restrictions. Institutions can continue to provide distance learning for students who are outside the UK, for existing sponsored students who will transition to face-to-face or blended learning in the UK before 06 April 2022” (paragraph 2.11).  

However, for those students who are in the UK, “from 27 September 2021 onwards, sponsors will not be able to provide tuition which is delivered entirely remotely to students who are undertaking their studies within the UK, there must be some face-to-face learning” (paragraph 2.16). A minimum level of face-to-face contact is then set in paragraph 2.17:

  • “2.17. Sponsors must have face-to-face contact with sponsored Students who are doing blended learning in the UK at least twice per month during term time, on a rolling four-week basis, unless less frequent contact is already permitted under the academic engagement policy set out in the sponsor guidance (for example engagement permitted under Band 3)”. 

A new paragraph (paragraph 2.21) indicates that “where a student is studying by blended learning in the UK, the sponsor must monitor a student’s attendance at expected physical contact points as usual and report a student where the student fails to engage with the course or attend the required contact points”.   

For students studying course below degree level, the 15-hour per week requirement will apply, in this way:

  • “2.18. Students studying courses below degree level via distance or blended learning are required to undertake 15 hours of study per week from 27 September 2021. When studying overseas, there must be 15  hours study by distance learning per week. For those in the UK studying by blended learning, the online element of study will count towards the 15 hours. Sponsors must ensure as far as possible that students are genuinely attending the online elements of study, rather than for example just logging in with a device whilst engaging in other activity” (paragraph 2.18).

Updates on the Graduate route concession 

The guidance already included concessions for students on courses of 12 months or less in the following two scenarios: 

  • Students who began a course of 12 months or less in 2020 or Spring 2021 via distance learning, and who have not previously entered the UK to study that course will be able to make a Graduate application if they make a successful Student visa application and arrive in the UK either before their visa ends or by 27 September 2021, whichever is sooner. 
  • Students who began a course of 12 months or less in 2020 or 2021 who have existing permission as a Student to study that course, and who have already travelled to the UK during that period of permission, will be able to make a Graduate application as long as they are present in the UK before the end date of their permission. 

However, there is now additional clarity that: 

“Students who commence a course of 12 months or less in Autumn 2021 or Spring 2022 via distance learning from overseas must enter the UK no later than 6 April 2022 and complete that course of study in the UK with permission as a Student to be eligible for the Graduate Route. “ [paragraph 3.26] 

In line with the Immigration Minister’s comment yesterday that the 6 April 2022 should be seen as a deadline, not a target, the guidance states that students should travel once they are able to do so.

Paragraph 3.28 has been amended to say that Students sponsored for a course lasting longer than 12 months will not be prevented from eligibility under the Graduate route as a result of any distance learning which takes place overseas between 27 September 2021 and 6 April 2022.