Training providers have accused the Department for Education of discriminating against people on visas following a change to apprenticeship funding rules.
For several years the rules have stated that individuals must “be able to complete the apprenticeship within the time they have available” to be funded.
Version one of the 2023/24 rules changed this section to include the examples “because their visa will expire or because they have a fixed term contract which is shorter than the duration of the apprenticeship”.
Visa extensions can be a lengthy process and are generally only extended in the six months before expiry. Experts told FE Week that before the DfE’s rule change was made, it had been understood that checking the learner had every intention of reapplying for their visa when they could was deemed to be sufficient to start the visa holder on an apprenticeship.
Providers have been lobbying the DfE since the 2023/24 rules were published in May to warn that given the average apprenticeships is around two years long now, this change is “clearly and openly discriminating against people on visas”.
A DfE spokesperson claimed its policy had not changed and the addition in this year’s rules was simply a “clarification”.
“Our policy remains that individuals with visas and eligibility to remain can undertake an apprenticeship provided the duration of the apprenticeship is not longer than their time remaining in the country,” the DfE told FE Week.
“This is because it is not fair to the individual to allow them to commence an apprenticeship which they will not be able to complete, nor is it an appropriate use of public funds.”
FE funding expert Steve Hewitt said the DfE’s response “fundamentally, willfully, misunderstands the UK’s visa system”.
“Those on the route to Indefinite Leave to Remain and even Citizenship do not have the luxury of long-dated visas and must reapply several times before they reach that stage,” he explained.
“To suggest that those who have come to build their life here and support the British economy should not be able to access apprenticeship training for unnecessary, purely bureaucratic, reasons is a travesty.”
Dan Ball, quality director at England’s largest apprenticeship provider Lifetime Training, called for further guidance on how the new requirement is to be regulated. He said as it stands he anticipates the visa rule change “will have an impact on apprenticeship uptake, and particularly affect those from diverse backgrounds”.
The DfE does not publish statistics showing how many people on visas take up apprenticeships, so the scale of the impact is unknown.
Association of Employment and Learning Providers director of policy Simon Ashworth said his membership body, alongside several providers in the professional services sectors, has raised this issue with the DfE and will be “continuing to look for greater flexibility as part of the ongoing simplification project”.
He said: “With apprenticeships becoming longer in duration we believe the department should work more closely with the Home Office to come up with a pragmatic, flexible solution to support those individuals who clearly intend to stay for their programme and beyond.”
The DfE said it will continue to keep all aspects of its rules under review and will set out any changes in version of the 2023/24 rules in October.