Following a lengthy period of largely favourable decisions for the Home Office, the High Court has recently ruled that the Home Secretary erred in refusing to grant Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) status to a Tier 4 sponsor.
The case, R (Goldsmith International Business School) v SSHD  EWHC 1232 (Admin), focused on two points of law.
Firstly, the Home Secretary was found to have incorrectly interpreted the meaning of the phrase ‘recognised qualification’ in the Sponsor Guidance.
Secondly, it was held that the sponsor’s historic failures to report students who had not enrolled because of visa refusals could not be used as a means to refuse a grant of HTS status.
The recognised qualification argument
The Secretary of State’s case was that the college had issued a single CAS to students who would not be studying for a recognised qualification in its own right because the programme in question consisted of two separate courses. This therefore carried a requirement for two separate CAS. The college contended that the course – a combined ACCA and BSc (Hons) in Applied Accounting awarded by Oxford Brookes University – did meet the requirements in relation to a recognised qualification.
Although the facts relating to the course itself are no longer relevant following changes to the ACCA, the judge found that the terms ‘recognised qualification’ and ‘approved qualification’ are not synonymous. The judge was of the opinion that the fact that a qualification was recognised did not necessarily mean that it was also an approved qualification.
The judge found that the Home Secretary, via the Entry Clearance Officers who had assessed the information about the course when considering the Tier 4 applications, had applied an erroneous interpretation of the phrase ‘recognised qualification’ and hence the resulting visa refusals were unlawful.
Failure to report visa refusals
Of particular importance are the judge’s remarks concerning past failures by the Claimant. The Claimant accepted that it had failed previously to report visa refusals in line with the requirements of its sponsor licence. The Claimant’s position was that it was unaware for some time that such refusals had to be reported. Of note is that the Home Office had conducted compliance checks since the original failures to report which the Claimant had passed and it was accepted that, other than the failures to report, the Claimant had a history of good compliance.
The judge concluded that the failure to report had been given less emphasis by the Home Secretary in refusing the HTS application than the visa refusal rate issue and that she had paid “insufficient regard to the current capacity and performance of the Claimant in reporting such students.”
The decision to refuse the HTS application was therefore quashed.
This judgement is important as it signals that the court is willing to consider a sponsor’s current strong compliance profile where there are allegations of historic failings.
We provide legal advice to a large number of Tier 4 sponsors and assist them in retaining HTS status, including overturning refusal decisions. If your organisation requires advice on these or any other issues, please contact us.