Calling All Tier 4 Sponsors!

This week, the news that the UK Border Agency (UKBA) has decided to revoke the London Metropolitan University’s sponsor licence, stripping them of their right to sponsor visas for international students, came as a shock to many.  This decision has left around 2,000 students at risk of removal from the country if they cannot find an alternative University to sponsor them. 

While we were all aware the licence had been suspended since July, it was assumed that as a prestigious London university, the issues would be resolved and international students would be able to commence or continue their courses as normal.  But sadly this is not the case and in light of this, we feel it is important for all Tier 4 Sponsor Licence holders to remember their obligations, check they are complying and avoid being caught out in similar circumstances.

In this blog we aim to provide guidance for students of the London Metropolitan who are affected, and we hope to highlight key compliance areas that educational institutions must be aware of.

London Metropolitan University – what went wrong?

A few weeks before the term’s start, whilst the UKBA was deciding whether or not to revoke their licence, the London Metropolitan University was unsure whether it would be able to continue sponsoring non-EEA overseas students. 

The University’s status as a “highly trusted sponsor” was temporarily suspended pending investigation, a worrying prospect for many students.  Then on Thursday the 30th of August, the UKBA confirmed that its licence to authorise Tier 4 visas would be completely removed.

A task force has been put in place to help students find a new sponsor before the Government will begin issuing notices to students which require them to leave the UK within 60 days.  According to the UKBA guidance, if a Sponsor’s Tier 4 licence is revoked then students must leave within 60 days unless they find another sponsor.

After the UKBA carried out an investigation sampling 250 files at the London Metropolitan, Immigration Minister Damian Green said the University had failed to meet its obligations in the three following ways:

  1. 26 of the 101 students sampled were studying at the University when they had no leave to remain in the UK;
  2. 20 of 50 checked files showed no evidence of English language being properly tested; and
  3. 142 of 250 (57%) sampled records had attendance monitoring issues, which meant it was impossible for the University to know whether students were turning up for classes or not.

The University had an obligation to ensure their foreign students would have the requisite language skills, enrol on the course, attend classes and submit essays, and also to prevent the education system being exploited by allowing non-EEA nationals to work illegally.  Based on the official reports, it is clear that it has failed to comply with this obligation to the standard expected by the UKBA.

 But what happens to all the genuine students who are caught up in this situation, facing deportation and left without a course of study?

What should affected students do?

The UK Border Agency has published guidance on their website for students affected by this decision, which we have reproduced below.

The London Metropolitan University’s licence has been removed from the register of licensed sponsors, so students from outside the European Union are no longer allowed to study there.

Despite this, London Metropolitan University students who are already in the UK with a current, valid UK visa,  do not need to do anything immediately.

A government-led taskforce will work with London Metropolitan to support affected students and will enable genuine, qualifying students to find another University where they can continue their studies.

Existing London Metropolitan University students with a current, valid UK visa who are on holiday overseas, may return to the UK.

New students who are planning to travel to the UK to start studying this term with London Metropolitan University should not travel.

Sponsoring foreign students

Are you an institution wishing to sponsor students but are concerned by this news?  The process for applying for a sponsor licence has quite recently changed and the UKBA has updated their guidance to assist educational institutions:

The main points to remember are:

  1. All sponsors who want to provide courses for international students need a licence from the UK Border Agency.
  2. Once they have a licence they are added to the Tier 4 register of sponsors.
  3. The register of sponsors has the name, location and rating of the organisation
  4. The new requirement for Tier 4 sponsors to have Highly Trusted Sponsor status (HTS) is awarded to sponsors who show a good history of compliance with their sponsor duties. New licence holders are awarded an “A” rating but within 12 months a sponsor must apply for HTS and meet all the criteria set out for Highly Trusted Sponsors.
  5. Sponsors must obtain HTS with a pass mark of 70 out of 100. A sponsor does not have to prove that all their students are approved /enrolled on/ have completed their course, as some allowance are made, must they have to ensure that their students are progressing academically, and are enrolling and completing their courses and that the institution has a low visa refusal rate . An institution must also ensure they comply with the Immigration Rules with relation to sponsoring students. If they achieve a “near-miss” score of 50-70 points on their HTS status they apply again after 6 months, after which if they achieve another “near-miss” they will receive a “Legacy” rating and will not be allowed to sponsor anymore international students for new course.

Tier 4 Sponsors – don’t be caught out…

The key principles in the Immigration Rules are:

  1. Students must achieve 40 points on the Points Based System:
  • 30 points for a valid CAS,
  • 10 points for having enough money to cover course fees and monthly living costs;
  1. Each student must have valid entry-clearance, leave to enter or leave to remain for the particular course/category they are enrolling on;
  2. The student must not be an illegal entrant;
  3. The applicant must not fall for refusal under the general grounds for refusal i.e. have been previously deported, do not have a valid passport or exclusion would be conducive to public good;
  4. Students must also demonstrate English Language proficiency in an interview and without assistance from an interpreter. You must ensure you have proof for UKBA inspections that each student’s language abilities have been tested;
  5. The applicant must be at least 16 years old;
  6. Where the applicant is under 18 years of age, the application must be supported by the applicant’s parents or legal guardian, or by just one parent if that parent has sole legal responsibility for the child.

We hope this has been a useful summary and may provide some guidance to anyone affected by the situation at London Metropolitan.

If you have any questions or queries, comment below…

Contact Newland Chase