The new academic year is well underway for Tier 4 sponsor licence holding universities, colleges and schools. With the CAS assigning and student enrolment rush out of the way, now is a good time for those responsible for the Tier 4 sponsor licence to take stock and check that SMS reports and other compliance measures are up to date.
What type of SMS reports may need to be made?
First of all, those responsible for Tier 4 compliance should consider if any reports about students to whom a CAS has been assigned (under Tier 4 (Child) and Tier 4 (General)) need to be made. The main reports at this time of year typically fall into three categories:
- visa refusals/failure to enrol
- BRP errors
- course changes
The sponsor’s duties in relation to the above are currently set out at paragraph 7 of document 2 of the Tier 4 Sponsor Guidance, other than reporting BRP errors which is referred to at paragraph 2.9.
Visa refusals/failure to enrol
Whilst sponsors generally know that a visa refusal rate of 10% or more places them at risk of failing the annual Basic Compliance Assessment (BCA), some may not appreciate that sponsors are under a duty to report to UKVI instances where a student has used a CAS to make an immigration application which has been refused. This is so even if a subsequent CAS led to an approved application – a report must still be made in relation to the first CAS.
The term ‘visa refusal’ refers to a refusal of an application for leave to enter the UK (also referred to as ‘entry clearance’), which is made from overseas, and also for leave to remain, which is made from inside the UK.
If a sponsored student is granted a visa, but fails to enrol for their course within the enrolment period, as set by the sponsor, the sponsor must also report this to UKVI.
UKVI’s position is that sponsors must report a non enrolment/visa refusal within 10 working days from the end of the enrolment period.
Reporting BRP errors
Unfortunately there appear to be far more BRP errors this year than in previous years. Errors on a BRP concerning conditions of stay, for example incorrect work rights, are not the fault of the student or the sponsor, but the sponsor is still required to report errors to UKVI.
Recently, a new function on the SMS was created to enable sponsors to make such reports through the system. It is important that sponsors use this in order to be compliant.
The Sponsor Guidance does not set out a specific time-frame for making such reports but we would recommend that they are made either as soon as the sponsor becomes aware of the error, in the case of a small number, or at regular intervals during the enrolment period if there are a significant number of errors to be reported.
Sponsored students will need to obtain a correct BRP and further information on the relevant process to follow is here.
Some sponsored students will be realising at this early stage in the academic year that they have chosen the wrong course.
If they are studying at a Higher Education Provider with a track record of compliance (as defined in the Sponsor Guidance), and providing the course is at degree level or above and the other requirements set out in the Immigration Rules and Guidance are met, they will be able to change course without having to make a fresh immigration application. The sponsor must report a change of course within 10 working days.
Unfortunately, in all other cases, a new CAS would need to be assigned and the student would need to make a fresh immigration application.
Other housekeeping tips
Ensure that students have clear information about their conditions of stay
There rules concerning what students can and cannot do in the UK can be complex for new students, especially the rules concerning work, self-employment, activities that fall within the ‘professional sportsperson’ exclusions etc.
Ensuring that clear and up to date information is available to sponsored students will help them to avoid breaching their conditions of stay. That, in turn, will help the sponsor to manage its duty to report ‘concerns about students working illegally in the UK or who are otherwise breaching their conditions’ (paragraph 6.23 of document 2 of the Tier 4 Sponsor Guidance).
Appendix D documents
The start of a new academic year is also a good time to ensure that the sponsor holds all the documentation, either in a hard copy file or electronically, relating to sponsored students that is referred to in Appendix D of the Sponsor Guidance.
Once the evidence relied on to make the offer to the student, such as a personal statement (if obtained), evidence regarding parental consent and care arrangements (for children), a copy of a vignette (if issued), BRP and passport are already on file, most of the Appendix D obligations are complied with. Then it’s just a case of updating the file throughout sponsorship as and when there is a relevant change, in addition to keeping a record of the student’s attendance and absences (and evidence regarding absences where relevant) and their contact details during their time with the sponsor (current and historical).
If UKVI decides to audit the sponsor, preparing for that audit will be a far more comfortable experience if the sponsor is confident that the majority of the documents that UKVI will review are already in one place, have been checked and are ready for inspection. This will allow those responsible for Tier 4 compliance more time to prepare for the interviews with UKVI and to deal with any pre-audit issues that may arise.
Changes to the sponsor
Now is also a good time to check if there are any changes within the sponsoring entity that must be reported to UKVI.
- Have any of the key personnel associated with the licence (Authorising Officers, Key Contact, Level 1 & 2 users, Headmaster/Principal) changed?
- Are any new sites being acquired or any new teaching partnerships being entered into?
- Have there been any changes in the ownership/control of the sponsor?
- Have there been any changes in the status of any registration by a governing body held by the sponsor, including changes to their Educational Oversight provider (the OfS is now the Educational Oversight provider for many sponsors)?
- Have relevant material changes been reported to the Educational Oversight provider?
Tier 4 Sponsor Guidance
The Tier 4 Sponsor Guidance changes frequently so it is important that staff with responsibility for Tier 4 reference the guidance regularly to ensure that all compliance activity has been undertaken and to check for updates.
We also recommend that even if the Authorising Officer does not have day to day involvement with Tier 4, they too read the guidance in full from time to time so they can ensure that there is adequate resource within the sponsoring entity to maintain compliance in what is a detailed and complex area of immigration law and policy.
We have only covered some of the key points sponsors may wish to consider at this time of year here and it is important that sponsors keep abreast of all compliance areas.