Why there needs to be more education on share codes

“There is a serious lack of understanding about how and when to use government-generated share codes”

Starting a new university course is always going to be a daunting prospect, but for international students it’s also about embarking on life in a new country too, writes Matt Oldham, co-founder of Unizest.

For overseas students, proving their immigration status is one of the many challenges they need to overcome, yet what should in theory be a relatively simple process, often becomes a complex one due to a lack of understanding around share codes.

Whether taking on part time employment, applying for accommodation, or opening a UK bank account – all three activities require a proof of ‘right to work’ or ‘right to live’ in the UK. And here’s where it gets complicated.

It’s not simply a case of proving settled or pre-settled status, or using the ‘UK Immigration: ID check’ app as proof of your visa. Share codes are vital for starting a new life in the UK. But with so little education around share codes, it’s clear more needs to be done to help students understand how, where, why and when they need to be used.

So what is a share code?

Essentially a share code is a government-generated series of nine letters and numbers, unique to every individual, and are used to prove immigration status. Introduced by the UK government in 2019 to digitise the immigration verification process, two years down the line it seems that rather than creating a simple online solution, instead there is a serious lack of understanding about how and when to use them.

Applying for a share code is not as simple as clicking a button on the government website which says ‘generate a share code’. Instead you need to search for terms such as ‘view and prove your immigration status’, ‘demonstrate right to work’ or ‘prove your status’. In theory this may sound straightforward, but if English is not your first language, navigating your way around the system may prove difficult – even if you are a tech savvy student.

In fact, it ends up being another piece of the complex and time consuming jigsaw that must be completed in order to study in the UK. And for students arriving from countries where a visa application is reliant on confirmation of a university place, this needs to be done at speed so as not to hold up other vital parts of the process.

Often though, it ends up moving down the priority list only to rear its ugly head when trying to sort out necessities like opening a UK bank account or securing accommodation – both vital components of starting a life in a new country. Coupled with overcoming cultural and language barriers, and leaving friends and family for the first time, this can result in a negative start to what should be an exciting time in a young person’s life.

Supporting students with share code knowledge

Thankfully there are agencies out there who work with universities in assisting with this process. But from what I can see, and from conversations with some of these agencies and educational facilities, they’re receiving no formal guidance or help from the UK government – instead it’s down to them to be proactive in their knowledge-building.

It’s also crucial that students themselves are aware of, and confident with, the share code process. For example, since Brexit, EU and EEA students are now required to prove their status in the same way as international students from further afield. So for new EU students who may have had a sibling or friend studying in the UK pre-Brexit, it’s important that they understand what the new requirements are now that the UK is no longer part of the EU.

Also it should be noted, that even for EU nationals who moved to the UK as a child and spent the majority of their lives living here, a share code is still a requirement in the country that they call their home – simply because they do not hold a British passport.

With international student admissions currently at a record high, and a vital source of income for the UK economy, we should be looking to simplify the process of kickstarting a new life in the UK, not make it more convoluted. Turning a paperwork-heavy task into a digital one does not make it simpler. Instead there needs to be more education and clearer communication for those who are using share codes, and for those who are guiding people through the process of generating one.

About the author: Matt Oldham has over 25 years working in Financial Services and Loyalty, with Affinion, Thomas Cook , GE Capital and was part of the strategy team that led the transformation of Airmiles to Avios (IAG). Matt has had prior success as an entrepreneur, with successful Green Tech venture, distributing energy saving products through major retailers, including Sainsburys. He is a Mentor at Barclays Fintech Accelerator – Techstars – and a non-executive Director of an established Payments business.