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Radical Changes for Education Sector Sponsors

We are used to the Home Office publishing new Sponsor Guidance and 6 April 2015 saw yet another number of key changes to Sponsor Guidance for Tier 4 sponsors.

The greatest change to affect our clients within the education sector are the measures that will bring about an end to Highly Trusted status for Education sector sponsors.

In light of the new protocol, all current sponsors must ensure that by 1 October 2015 none of their marketing or other material refers to the term ‘Highly Trusted Sponsor’. We would guess that this summer will be frantic for communications departments in all educational establishments, to ensure compliance.

Under the new Guidance, from 6 April 2015 educational establishments that apply for a Sponsor Licence and are approved will be known as ‘Probationary Sponsors’ for the first 11 months. Providing they pass a new Basic Compliance Assessment, they will then be approved as a Tier 4 Sponsor.

Sponsors who already hold a Tier 4 Sponsor Licence will be known as a ‘Tier 4 Sponsor’ which we would hope causes less confusion. Sponsors will be required to pass the Basic Compliance Assessment every 12 months (regardless of how long it has taken UKVI to make a decision on a previous assessment) in order to retain Tier 4 Sponsor status.

In order to pass the Basic Compliance Assessment, the sponsor must have:

•a refusal rate of less than 10%
•an enrolment rate of at least 90%; and
•a course completion rate of at least 85%

The request for a Basic Assessment is made via the SMS and attracts a fee which must be paid via the SMS, unless the sponsor has subscribed for the Tier 4 premium customer service. The request must be made within 1 month before the expiry date and progress of the request can be tracked online.

Those that fail the assessment are likely to see their licence revoked unless they fall within the discretionary assessment criteria (i.e they have issued less than 50 CAS in the assessment period or are classed as an independent school).

Sponsors that face revocation action for failing the Basic Compliance Assessment or for any other reason should always consider submitting detailed representations setting out the reasons why discretion should be exercised, so these facts and the supporting evidence can be placed on their file and given proper consideration. Asking for discretion to be exercised can be complex, as submissions about proportionality and exceptional circumstances should be cited. It is a powerful argument and should be considered putting to the Home Office if revocation is threatened.

New powers mean that if a licence is revoked, UKVI can then refuse to allow the sponsor back onto the register for up to 24 months. This means that if a licence is revoked, the institution may find that it is unable to sponsor international students at all for up to 24 months and will then be granted Probationary Sponsor status for the next 11 months.

For Sponsors who rely on their international students as their main source of business / income, this ‘cooling off’ period may prove terminal to their existence.

The new guidance brought further changes, including:

• new powers for educational oversight providers including the ability to fail a private provider that is deemed not to be credible

• potential sanctions where key personnel have been linked to another sponsor that has previously had its licence revoked or has surrendered its licence

• a requirement for sponsors to notify UKVI if they become aware that students have been granted incorrect conditions of stay

• more information as to when UKVI may take action against a sponsor in relation to alleged compliance breaches and the process UKVI will follow.

The new guidance introduces changes that are likely to have a significant impact on Tier 4 Sponsors and it is therefore essential that sponsors review the guidance in detail.

We would suggest the most efficient way to ensure compliance is to arrange an immigration audit, which should identify any issues of non-compliance and recommendations to protect your licence and status.

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