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Education e-briefing: UK Immigration Briefing – Tier 4 Sponsor Guidance

  • United Kingdom
  • Education - Briefings


We emailed you last month to inform you that the Tier 4 Sponsor Guidance had been updated and the new guidance was to be used for all Tier 4 applications made on or after 1 March 2015. Notwithstanding this very recent change, UKVI has now substantially revised the Tier 4 Sponsor Guidance and this new guidance applies from 6 April 2015.

Whilst there are still three documents that make up the Sponsor Guidance, there has been a restructuring of these documents so that they now cover the following areas:

  • Document 1 – Applying for a Tier 4 Licence
  • Document 2 – Sponsorship Duties
  • Document 3 – Tier 4 Compliance

As well as the change in the structure of the three documents, there have been some important changes which may significantly affect your current arrangements.

Basic Compliance Assessment

On the face of it, one of the most eye-catching changes is, what is referred to in the Sponsor Guidance, as the abolition of the Highly Trusted Sponsor status. This has, however, been replaced by the “Basic Compliance Assessment”, which is covered in document three, and requires the sponsor to pass a Basic Compliance Assessment every 12 months. Essentially, the HTS percentage requirements remain for refusals, enrolment and course completion; the terminology has just changed.

The term “Highly Trusted Sponsor” will be replaced by “Tier 4 Sponsor” and the term “A-rated Sponsor” will be replaced by “Probationary Sponsor”. The restrictions that applied to A rated sponsors apply equally to Probationary Sponsors.

English Language

In response to the abuse found in a number of Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) testing centres, UKVI has announced policy which will see the number of approved SELTs limited to International English Language Testing System (IELTS) worldwide and IELTS and Trinity English exams in the UK. This will take effect on 6 April 2015 and the Sponsor Guidance includes transitional arrangements for students who sat an English Language test before 6 April 2015. In addition, the number of approved testing centres will be limited to 100 SELT centres worldwide with an additional 10 in the UK.

We have some concerns about the ramifications this will have for students looking to study on a Tier 4 visa at FE institutions and private providers, who (unlike HE institutions) cannot use their own method of assessment and must therefore rely on students holding an approved SELT from the reduced list. We understand that UKVI will be monitoring demand and utilising pop up centres during busy periods. UKVI have also introduced a 28 day guarantee for students looking to take an approved SELT. Despite these reassurances, the reduction in approved tests and exam centres will inevitably restrict the number of international students who are able to study at colleges.

Record keeping

UKVI may ask a sponsor to complete a spreadsheet showing the details of each of its Tier 4 students and their attendance. If requested, this must be sent electronically to UKVI within 21 days of the date of the request, providing all the information requested. UKVI may also ask a sponsor to complete a spreadsheet showing the details of each of its Tier 4 students and their current addresses, including information on the proximity of their residential address to the sponsor’s teaching site. Institutions may want to start thinking now about whether they have a good record of this information.

CAS allocations

In relation to CAS allocations the Sponsor Guidance now states that when an institution applies for its annual CAS allocation it can apply for an increase of up to 50% of the previous year’s CAS allocation but that if this request would increase the institution’s current student body by 20% or more, the request may trigger an Educational Oversight inspection. The institution may not apply for any additional CAS during the 12 month period but UKVI retain discretion to grant additional CAS on an exceptional basis.

Educational Oversight

There is a much greater emphasis on Educational Oversight. Going forward, prospective sponsors will need to demonstrate a teaching track record (teaching UK/EEA students) for two years prior to its application rather than one year. Educational oversight inspections must also be passed prior to renewal of the sponsor licence, and if circumstances change, such as adding a site to the licence.

Non compliance

Document 3 includes a substantially redrafted section on non-compliance and the steps UKVI will take if it believes a sponsor poses a threat to immigration control, or breaches its sponsorship duties, or otherwise fails to comply with the Immigration Rules or Sponsor Guidance. The Sponsor Guidance sets out a non-exhaustive list of breaches of sponsorship duties which, when they occur in isolation and/or relate to a small number of students and the sponsor is capable of correcting them, are unlikely to be regarded as serious breaches. The Sponsor Guidance also sets out a non exhaustive list of failings which are likely to be considered a serious breach.

UKVI investigation and sanctions process

The Sponsor Guidance now contains two “Compliance Tracks”. Track 1 where the sponsor is suspected of an isolated or minor breach, and Track 2 where UKVI suspects a serious breach of sponsorship duties. Under Track 1 an investigation will take place and if it is concluded that there is evidence of breach of sponsorship duties short of a serious breach, UKVI can issue an action plan with a specified review date. Failure to meet the requirements of the action plan will lead to revocation action.

If UKVI believe that the breaches fall within Compliance Track 2, namely a serious breach, that can give rise to revocation of the licence. It is important to note that if the institution’s licence is revoked then the institution cannot apply to re-join the Tier 4 sponsor register for a period of 2 years rather than the previous six months.
The above is just a summary of the more important changes which are contained within the Tier 4 Sponsor Guidance.

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