Tier 4 Sponsor Guidance (Sponsoring International Students)


If you are an educational provider wishing to apply for a licence to sponsor foreign students from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland to come to the UK under Tier 4 of the points based system, read our Tier 4 sponsor guidance on what is required of sponsors enrolling international students.

What is a Tier 4 sponsor licence?

Tier 4 is the primary immigration route for non-EEA students who wish to study in the UK. Typically this relates to a full-time course of study, although in some limited circumstances this can also relate to a part-time course.

To be eligible to come to the UK to study under Tier 4, a foreign student will need to be sponsored by an education provider that holds a valid Tier 4 sponsor licence.

The Tier 4 sponsorship regime is based on two basic principles, namely that:

  • Those who benefit most directly from student migration, ie; education providers, must help to prevent the system from being abused; and
  • Those applying to come to the UK to study must be eligible to do so with a reputable education provider who genuinely wishes to teach them.

A Tier 4 licence is the permission granted to an education provider to enrol non-EEA students on a course of study in the UK. As an education provider, you can apply for a licence in two categories:

  • Tier 4 (General) student – this route is for migrants aged 16 or over who come to the UK for their post-16 education.
  • Tier 4 (Child) student – this route is for students aged 4-17 who come to the UK for their education at independent schools.

Tier 4 sponsor eligibility guidance

To be eligible for a Tier 4 licence, an education provider must satisfy the following criteria:

  • Be a genuine education provider that is operating lawfully in the UK and complying with all appropriate rules and regulations
  • Have acceptable educational quality standards, as determined by an Educational Oversight body
  • Be considered eligible and suitable to hold a Tier 4 licence, and
  • Be capable of carrying out its duties as a Tier 4 sponsor.

Academies and state-funded schools, including those with sixth forms, cannot hold a Tier 4 licence or sponsor students under Tier 4 of the points based system.

For more information on the duties that

If you are an existing Tier 4 sponsor that has converted or will be converting to academy status or state-funded institution, contact us for advice on the implications for your licence and compliance duties.

Tier 4 sponsor application guidance 

To apply for a Tier 4 sponsor licence you must complete and submit the online application, with the correct fee, including a declaration from you that you agree to meet all of the duties associated with being a licensed sponsor.

You will also need to supply the specified documents to prove that you are eligible, suitable and able to fulfil your sponsorship duties.

Please note, when applying for a Tier 4 licence you will need to appoint key personnel and provide contact details for them. The key personnel are the individuals who will be responsible for recruiting and/or monitoring Tier 4 students during the course of their studies, accessing the sponsor management system and ensuring that your sponsorship duties are met on a day-to-day basis.

You will also need to elect which sites you would like to use to teach Tier 4 students, as well as an estimate of the number of Confirmations of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) you would like to assign in each Tier 4 category in the first year of your Tier 4 licence. For every Tier 4 student that you recruit, you will need to assign them a CAS to enable them to apply for a visa.

What is the Home Office looking for in a Tier 4 licence application?

When considering whether or not you meet the eligibility criteria, UK Visas and Immigration – the department of the Home Office responsible for the UK visa system – will have regard to a number of factors, including your history and background as an education provider, the key personnel named on your application and anyone involved in the day-to-day running of the organisation.

In particular, UKVI may refuse an application where there is any evidence of dishonest conduct or a previous history of immigration violations, either by the organisation itself or any individual within that organisation.

UKVI will also consider the policies and processes of the education provider, including how student attendance is monitored, to ensure it will be able to fulfil its sponsorship duties. This may involve a site visit prior to any final decision.

If UKVI considers that an education provider is not suitable for any or all of the reasons alluded to above to hold a Tier 4 licence, it will refuse the application.

How long does a Tier 4 licence last?

If you are granted a Tier 4 licence, you will initially be given what’s known as “probationary sponsor status”. As a probationary sponsor you must demonstrate that you can fulfil your sponsorship duties and can be trusted to hold Tier 4 Sponsor status.

Following your first annual basic compliance assessment you can then apply for full Tier 4 Sponsor status. Having been granted a Tier 4 licence, unless it is revoked or surrendered, this will remain valid for four years.

Thereafter, you must apply to renew your Tier 4 licence before it expires, or it will be removed from the Tier 4 Register of Sponsors and you will not be permitted to continue sponsoring existing students or to recruit new students.

What are the Tier 4 sponsorship duties?

When an education provider is granted a Tier 4 licence, significant trust is placed in them, and with this trust comes a responsibility to act in accordance with the Immigration Rules and to prevent abuse of the system.

UKVI has a duty to ensure that all education providers that hold a Tier 4 licence discharge their responsibilities. Accordingly, UKVI will take compliance action when it considers that a sponsor has failed to comply with its duties, or otherwise poses a risk to immigration control.

The key sponsorship duties include specific record-keeping and reporting duties. Under your record-keeping duties you must keep accurate and up-to-date contact details of each Tier 4 student, together with a copy of their passport and/or biometric residence permit.

Under your reporting duties, you must report certain Tier 4 student activities, for example, where a student fails to enrol on their course of study within the prescribed enrolment period, or you are aware that the student has been breaking the conditions of their permission to stay in the UK.

Are you looking for Tier 4 sponsor guidance? 

DavidsonMorris are specialist UK immigration solicitors. We provide Tier 4 sponsor guidance to education institutions, including application guidance and ongoing support with licence management and compliance.

Please note that if your Key Personnel fail in their day-to-day duties, you will risk action being taken against you, including having your licence suspended or revoked. It is therefore vital that you avoid falling foul of the law.

For advice specific to your organisation, contact us.


Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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