Tier 4 Sponsors – life at the sharp end of Home Office Compliance
We recently looked at the hurdles faced by international students from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) applying for student visas to study in the UK. With documents to complete, finances to prove and interviews to pass the UK is not the easiest place for non-EEA students to get an education.
Tier 4 visa applicants though are not the only ones facing the sharp end of the UK’s strict immigration system. The UK’s universities, FE colleges and independent schools - all subject to Tier 4 of the Points Based system, have a particularly prescriptive and costly time if they want to sponsor international students and tap into the income received from fees and maintenance. Without the coveted Tier 4 sponsor status, UK education institutions aren’t able to sponsor non-EEA students who are becoming increasingly important, with Brexit expected to see the number of EU domiciled students drop-off (with adverse public funding implications).
Home Office Compliance Action Against Sponsors
With compliance visits - both announced and unannounced rising each year, the Home Office is paying Tier 4 sponsors ever more attention as it attempts to ensure that education institutions comply with their sponsor duties. What we’ve seen is the UK Home Office being increasingly quick to take enforcement action if an education institution is deemed a threat to immigration control. This can include a reduction or freeze on a Sponsor’s CAS allocation all of the way up to licence revocation, with all sponsored students required to find an alternative Tier 4 sponsor or leave the UK within 60 days.
What’s clear is that Tier 4 sponsors must follow the Home Office’s record keeping, monitoring and reporting requirements to maintain their sponsor status – enrolling non EEA students without UK immigration permission, failing to properly assess a student’s academic progression or English language ability and failing to record international student attendance are all serious breaches of sponsor duties, potentially leading to an institution being stripped of its ability to recruit international students. When London Metropolitan University (LMU) lost its licence in 2012 after failing to comply with its sponsor duties, nearly 3,000 international students were left having to find new courses. The University’s reputation was also severely damaged as far as prospective non-EEA students were concerned, along with its UK standing amongst ambitious UK students. LMU subsequently had to put an action plan in place with the help of immigration experts and has been extremely careful of not dropping the ball again.
In addition to the threat of enforcement action for breach of ongoing compliance duties, Tier 4 sponsors must also pass an annual Basic Compliance Assessment to remain on the Tier 4 Register of licensed sponsors. Tier 4 sponsors who sponsor more than 50 students with a visa refusal rate of over 10% (amongst other criteria) can face revocation action. Passing Basic Compliance Assessments requires Tier 4 sponsors to have reliable systems and processes in place at all stages of the international student journey from application and recruitment to enrolment and monitoring attendance during studies.
New HE Regulatory Body for England - Office for Students
Tier 4 Sponsors which provide Higher Education courses in England must also now by 15 May 2019 register with the new Regulatory Body for Higher Education, the Office for Students, to maintain their sponsor licence from the academic year 2019-2020. Registration with the Office for Students (OfS) will be the only way Tier 4 sponsors delivering HE courses in England can meet the educational oversight requirement of Tier 4 sponsorship. Accordingly, no registration with the OfS means no Tier 4 licence!
If you are a Tier 4 sponsor and would like to find out more about how we can help you meet the Home Office’s Tier 4 Compliance regime or deal with non-compliance issues up to and including licence revocation and want to challenge the decision, please get in touch with Anna Blackden on +44 (0)118 959 6839 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The articles published on this website, current at the date of publication, are for reference purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your own circumstances should always be sought separately before taking any action.