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University’s visa advice to student a potential breach of immigration law

A St Hilda’s student was advised by the University to travel to the UK on a tourist visa, a potential breach of immigration laws, Cherwell can reveal.

Anyone applying for a tourist visa must state that their main purpose of travel is not studying. The University told Cherwell that use of the Bodleian libraries alone “probably doesn’t meet the Home Office’s idea of study.”

The student had suspended her studies due to a serious illness and returned to her home country as a result. She was asked to continue her studies during her suspension, which necessitated the use of the Bodleian libraries.

The student requested a new Tier 4 visa to allow her to return to the UK but was informed that this would not be available possible the next academic year under Home Office rules.

Emails seen by Cherwell show that when she approached St Hilda’s for assistance, the College’s academic registrar advised her to travel to the UK on a tourist visa: “I have spoken with the University Student Immigration team about your situation.

“They tell me that if you want to come to the UK to use the library, you will need to organise a tourist visa to do so.”

The student responded to the email by writing: “Is there any chance you [could] have a conversation with the emigration team once more? “Because opening the tourist visa would be a lie – I don’t come to the UK for tourism in this case, I come simply for study, and I don’t like lying.”

Speaking to Cherwell, the student added: “I believe that foreign students can be taken better care of.

“When we accept our offers, we agree to the fact that Oxford will be executing some form of control over us. They put forth certain requirements and work targets that we have to fulfil to complete our degrees.

“It is rather strange, however, that having made the rules of the game clear, the Oxford administration then starts putting up barriers that make it more difficult to fulfil their own criteria.”

The College responded by reiterating their position, telling the student: “Under Home Office legislation, the University Student Immigration team cannot process an application for your new Tier 4 visa with a start date earlier than the start of October.

“Therefore, your only available route if you want to use Oxford libraries is to come to the UK on a short term tourist visa.”

It is legal to study for up to 30 days on a tourist visa, but according to Home Office guidance: “The study must be an extra activity that you do during your visit to the UK, and can’t be the main purpose of your visit.”

Speaking to Cherwell, St. Hilda’s academic registrar Rebekah Unwin explained: “After receiving the student’s initial email earlier this week, I spoke with the University Student Immigration Team, who advised that under Home Office legislation they cannot process a request for a Tier 4 visa with a start date earlier than the start of the academic year and that therefore if the student plans to come to the UK for a couple of weeks in the summer the only course of action open to her is to apply for a tourist visa.

“I then passed this advice on to the student, and also advised her to make contact with the Immigration Team herself for further details.”

Asked about the student’s use of the Bodleian library, the University’s Tier 4 visa compliance unit said: “If someone is coming to use a library without enrolling on a short course, or being accepted by a UK institution to undertake research or be taught about research, then this might not meet the Home Office’s idea of study and therefore would probably not be a problem for a visitor to carry out, even if it was the main purpose of their trip.”

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