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Immigration and the Education Sector


If you are looking to enrol students from outside the European Economic Area (EEA), then immigration should be the biggest big concern. Failure to get this correct could be detrimental to your establishment. For example, in 2012 London Metropolitan University had its sponsor licence revoked shortly before the university academic year began. The consequence of that was that more than 2000 international students were left in limbo and the university suffered major embarrassment.

Sponsor Licence?

The immigration rules require any education provider who enrols non-EEA international students to have a Sponsor Licence. Having a sponsor licence will allow the educational institute to be on the UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) register of sponsors which is a public list for all the educational institutes and enrolling organisations that UKBA has licensed to enroll foreign students.

Applying for a sponsor licence is not as easy as it may sound. The requirements to validate your licence are as follows:

  1. Whether the educational provider is a genuine education provider that has acceptable educational quality standards, and is operating lawfully in the UK, complying with all appropriate rules and regulations.
  2. History and background, the Key Personnel named on its application and anyone involved in the day-to-day running of the organisation.
  3. Is the educational provider suitable for enrolling foreign students and that you are complying with the sponsor guidelines?
  4. The Home Office will also look at an education providers policies and processes, including how student attendance is monitored, to ensure it will be able to fulfil it's sponsorship duties.
  5. There may be a visit from the Home Office at the premises of the education provider before making a decision on its application for a Tier 4 licence. If the Home Office has significant doubts about the ability of an education provider to fulfil its sponsorship duties after visiting it, it may refuse its application.
  6. An education provider wishing to be a sponsor must demonstrate that all of its sites meet acceptable educational quality standards.

If a license is approved the educational provider will be provided a rating which can be either an ‘A’ rating which is for higher quality applications or a ‘B’ rating which is where the educational provider falls short of the expected duties. The educational provider could be downgraded from an ‘A’ rating to a ‘B’ rating at any time if they do not adhere to the duties. Having a ‘B’ rating will mean that the educational provider will not be able to issue any new certificates of sponsorship until they have demonstrated that they have made the improvements required.

So what are the reporting duties that the educational provider must adhere to? Once the educational provider has obtained a sponsor licence, they have a number of duties that they must adhere to. This includes informing UK Visas and Immigration if:

  • A sponsored student does not turn up for the first day of study
  • A sponsored student is absent from lessons without the permission of the educational provider for 10 consecutive days
  • A student quits
  • The Educational Provider stops sponsoring a student
  • There are any changes to the student’s circumstances
  • The Educational Provider suspect the student to be involved in criminal activity

We can provide advice and guidance on how to carry out the required duties so that the educational provider can obtain and maintain a sponsor licence.

Criminal Sanctions

If an education provider is found to be illegally allowing a migrant student to study at the institution, then they could face severe penalties, as well as irreparable damage to their reputation. Punishment includes:

  • imprisonment for up to five years;
  • a fine of up to £20,000 per illegal migrant;
  • or both.

Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS)

Having a sponsor licence allows the educational provider to issue and assign CAS to prospective students. The student will need this in order to submit an application to enter or extend their current leave. Without a valid CAS the application is doomed to fail.

So when do students apply?

Applications for a Tier 4 visa will be accepted up to three months before the start of the students course, and applicants can expect a reply within a few weeks of the submitted application. There is a healthcare surcharge as part of the application, the cost of which varies depending on the students circumstances.

With a Tier 4 visa the student can study and work in the UK (the work the student is allowed to do depends on what course or level of sponsor that they have) but the student cannot have access to public funds or work in professional sport. The student also cannot study at an academy or local authority-funded school.

Upon a successful application, the applicant can arrive in the UK up to one week before the start of the course, if the course lasts for only six months or less. If the course is for a longer period, then they can arrive up to one month before the start of the course.

During the course the student may seek to extend their visa to continue their studies, or start a new course. Subject to meeting the eligibility rules the student is able to do this. These rules are that the student must also be resident in the UK when they apply, and they must include all of their dependents on their application, including those on their current visa who have reached the age of 18 during their original stay.

Extension applications can be done online. They must be done within six months of being accepted on the new course or extended course, and before the current visa expires. However, this also must not be more than three months before the start of the course. The student can stay in the UK while you await your decision.

The application process usually takes eight weeks as standard, but there are ways that this can be speeded up. However, this affects the cost of the application process considerably.

What are the Tier 4 Immigration Rules for a Student?

There are strict eligibility rules in order for a student to be able to apply for a Tier 4 visa.

These include:

  • The student must be studying in the UK and be aged 16 or over.
  • The student must have been offered a place on a course with a licensed Tier 4 sponsor in place.
  • This course must be full-time and leading to a qualification of at least level 6 on the Ofqual register.
  • The course can be an overseas course of degree level study that is equal to a UK higher education course and is run by an overseas higher education institution.
  • The course can be a recognised foundation programme for a post-graduate doctor or dentist.
  • The student must be able to speak, read, write and understand English.
  • The student must be able to support themselves financially and be able to pay for your course.
  • The student must be applying from a country outside the European Economic Area or Switzerland.

How we can help you

At Lupton Fawcett we provide support to the education providers and students to help the process in respect to any part of their immigration process. The work we undertake in respect to immigration is done on a fixed fee basis which is highly competitive.

We also are available to provide a various audits which include, immigration, employment, and intellectual property to help you combat various issues.

For further information relating to the points raised in this article, please contact Director, Arif Khalfe or a member of the Education Team.

We are hosting a Seminar in November which will focus on GDPR in the Education Sector, please click here for further details.

Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.


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