The great VISA challenge

A senior higher education ‘source’ recently claimed that universities are struggling with Tier 4 visa application refusal rates; if an institution’s visa rejection rate exceeds ten percent it risks losing its Highly Trusted Sponsor status.

With an estimated 35 to 40 universities above the 10% threshold, Gordon Bull, General Counsel, Study Group considers the steps higher education institutions can take to increase visa application success rates.

The first point to note is that all higher education institutions (HEIs) will approach this issue in accordance with their unique operational structure: there is no single blueprint that can be followed in all cases. However, there are a number of core practices that can help increase success rates. 

  1. Visa department structure is important. Sometimes these are not as organised as they need to be. A centralised admissions system can streamline the process of consistently managing high volumes of applications. It is essential that a clear chain of command is in place so that high standards can be maintained.  
  1. We have recruitment staff around the world liaising with regional education agents. Local knowledge and expertise allows the global recruitment teams to work effectively with agents and candidates alike to ensure the visa application process runs as smoothly as possible. Local representation has proved to be hugely influential in reducing our visa rejection rate considerably.
  1. HEIs operating in international markets should tailor their policies to the regions in which they operate, paying particular attention to those posed as ‘high risk’. Having staff in situ in such areas enables you to glean a true understanding of the socio-political and economic circumstances in which you are working. This can help remove any would-be bias that would otherwise act as a barrier to the application process, which should be universally accessible to all prospective students.
  1. To maximise the potential of any international recruitment strategy, HEIs should recognise the value of data in the visa applications process. We have set up our internal systems and procedures to ensure that we can monitor and act on data on a monthly basis. We use this insight to develop our recruitment processes, supporting our systems and international set-up as a whole.
  1. Key to improving the application process is a close working relationship with international agents. Agents should be supported by their UK HE partners and given quality resources to enable them to achieve their objectives. Agent progress and performance should be regularly monitored and reviewed to ensure standards are upheld and that any issues can be remedied – we do this centrally with the visa team and feedback to regional teams who liaise with the relevant parties.

HEIs can make positive changes that will significantly improve their visa applications processes. Our advice would be to adopt an approach that is both reactive and proactive. On the one hand, you need to make sure you design an efficient visa policy and devise clear internal processes to implement it. On the other hand, you should remain flexible in your ability to respond to events in the world at large, and to the results you get from the performance data that you are constantly gathering. If you can master these approaches, then you’ll be well positioned to manage future Tier 4 revisions.