Immigration Law

Student Visa Sponsorship System Finally Under Review

A review is being undertaken by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) David Neal, to inspect the relationship between the immigration system and the higher education sector. 15th November 2021 was the last date for the call to evidence. The ICIBI confirmed that they will adopt an expansive outlook, and assess Home Office support to the objectives of the governments’ International Education Strategy

Areas of inspection include: 

  • The efficiency and effectiveness for international students and staff of the post-EU exit points-based immigration system. 
  • The Home Office’s licencing system for visa sponsorship, inclusive of compliance requirements.
  • Guidance for study and work applications to the higher education sector. 
  • Competitiveness of the UK’s immigration “offer” to international students and staff (cost, ease of navigating the system, accessibility for dependents, availability of post-study immigration routes etc.)

The ICIBI asked for feedback on “what is working well and what needs improvement”. Here are some thoughts by Royce Legal Immigration Solicitors on what needs improvement:

Compliance Requirements 

The education sector has been the victim of an oppressive set of immigration compliance requirements for the past ten years. It is due to the decisions made in 2012 to revoke the sponsor licence of London Metropolitan University. Suspension, restriction or revoking a license impacts the finance and reputation of high education institutes. Therefore, a review of the sponsor licensing system is very welcome at this point. 

UK universities have never abused the immigration system. Their role has always been to ensure that the UK continues to offer a world-class higher education system.  

Breaches in Sponsor Duties

Everything needs to be reported. We believe the reporting procedure is tedious and unfair. Consider this, the university’s in the UK sponsor a lot of students. A Confirmations of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) is assigned to new students and students extending their stay in the UK to study a new course or re-sit for exams, etc. 

The Home Office expects the university to maintain a record and track each sponsored student since the date of assigning CAS to completion of their course. Meaning that the university has to ensure that it has enough in-house staff to keep tabs on each CAS student’s visa application and its outcome. If the visa application is refused (no matter the reason), the university has to report to the Sponsor Management System within ten working days or otherwise, it will be considered a breach on the university’s part. What’s impractical about this is that the Home Office already knows the visa has been refused since they made the decision. 

Similarly, the Home Office does not allow sponsors access to its records for sponsored students. So the university staff has to check in with each student regularly to find the status of their visa application. 

In essence, once a CAS is assigned, the university needs to maintain a record of courses, their dates, the reason for sponsorship, the chief teaching location and any other additional locations and work placements of each student. Any discrepancies are viewed as a breach of sponsor duties. 

If the students’ visa application takes too long, or their flight is delayed, and they miss the start date as stated on the CAS then the university’s compliance team will have to withdraw sponsorship otherwise it will be deemed a breach of sponsor duties. If the student decides to change their course, the university’s compliance team will conduct an “academic progression” assessment and report the change within ten working days.

Furthermore, all sponsored students must provide the documentation referred to in Appendix D of the student sponsor guidance. 

Other breaches in sponsor duties include the following: 

  • Failure to report within ten working days of any changes regarding course location and duration, start and end of work placement, a period of studying abroad or if the student has permanently withdrawn from their course. 
  • Failure to report within ten working days if a student defers their studies. In addition, if the university did not withdraw the sponsorship knowing the deferral is a long one will also be counted as a breach.
  • Failing to report within 20 working days of a change in authorising officer or main contact and a relevant sale/merger/acquisition.
  • Failing to report within 20 working days for an arrangement for a teaching site or partnership end.
  • Not applying for permission for a new teaching site or partnership before the commencement of teaching. 
  • Not providing a list of agents that recruited international students.
  • Not maintaining a record of the students contact details during their time at the university (current and historical).

Strict Student Monitoring

Apart from the reporting requirements, universities are expected to have strict policies regarding attendance absence and engagement sponsored students. They are required to report if students are not engaging appropriately. 

The Higher Education Assurance Team goes through records of timetables, attendance logs, absence records, policies and procedures. If they consider them to be weak, the university will be issued a warning to enhance monitoring. Furthermore, there is also a specific requirement to report on a student if you suspect a “student is not a genuine student.” The term “genuine” is not defined, but the Home Office Expects the university to report if they find a sponsored student has worked 22 hours a week during term-time instead of the permitted 20 hours. It applies to bright academic students as well, even if they have 100% attendance.

How Royce Legal Immigration Solicitors can help you apply for a Student Sponsor License

Royce Legal is a specialist immigration and visa law firm. Our immigration solicitors are qualified to advise you on immigration law and your immigration status along with legal representation to submit a Student Sponsor Licence application.

We know that UK Immigration Rules are complex but with our legal representation, we will ensure your sponsor licence application meets the Immigration Rules and requirements.

Call us on 01706 655 592 for more information. Our initial consultation is free of charge.

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