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Face-to-face learning required for international students from 27 September


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The Home Office updated its Covid-19 guidance for overseas students and education providers yesterday. By far the most significant change relates to the distance learning concession introduced last year. Providers can still commence the sponsorship of new students who will initially study via distance or blended learning but only if “they intend to transition to face-to-face learning from 27 September 2021”.

Later it is stated more bluntly: “This distance learning concession will be in place for the duration of the 2020-21 academic year, ending on 27 September 2021”.

This has the potential to cause significant issues. Many international students still won’t be able to get to the UK due to Covid-19. The concession catered for this, allowing providers to go ahead and sponsor students even if they were unable to get here for face-to-face teaching. Removing that flexibility when there is still so much uncertainty seems unnecessary. 

Do education providers go ahead and issue CAS (the documents international students need before they can apply for a visa) in the hope that students from countries still facing severe pandemic difficulties will be able to make face-to-face learning by September? If they can’t come, will institutions be able to transition them to distance learning — and given that sponsored students are “not normally permitted to undertake distance learning courses”, will doing so exclude them from coming to the UK to continue their studies when possible?

We saw a recent U-turn on Covid-19 right to work checks. There will be plenty of education providers hoping for something similar. 

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Nichola Carter

Nichola heads the immigration team at Carter Thomas (www.carterthomas.co.uk). A lawyer with 20 years' experience, she also sits on The Law Society’s Immigration Committee. Nichola's main work relates to advising businesses, universities and schools on sponsor applications and compliance, and individuals seeking to come under the Global Talent, family and other routes . She regularly provides media comment including for the BBC and FT and is happy to be contacted for comment. Nichola tweets from @carternichola and her email is ncarter@carterthomas.co.uk.