Recruiting overseas students

Tijen Ahmet, immigration solicitor at SA Law, discusses how the law around recruiting overseas students may change post-election

The Government’s continued stringent approach towards international students have put more than 60% of Universities and Higher Education Institutions [HEIs] in the UK at risk of losing their sponsorship licence. From November 2014 tougher rules were imposed on institutions who sponsor internationals student in the UK by lowering the threshold of visa refusal rates from 20% to 10%. This means that if more than 10% of students that have been offered places by a University have been refused a visa, the University will lose their sponsorship licence. While it is accepted this is a further attempt by the government to “crackdown on immigration abuses”, they have undoubtedly failed to consider the injustice to institutions. Universities may issue a Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies [CAS] to use for a student visa application, however the visa application itself is not in their control and a refusal decision could be due to an error on part of the student applying.

More recent changes to Tier 4 Guidance for Sponsors effective from 6 April 2015 state that a licence application or renewal can be refused if the key personnel have been involved or linked to a licence that has been revoked. Tier 4 Sponsors therefore need to be cautious when appointing their key personnel to their licence. More significantly if an education provider has their licence revoked they face a longer cooling-off period of two years before they can reapply for a new licence in contrast to the previous six months.

These changes require Universities and HEIs to be extra vigilant to ensure immigration compliance when recruiting overseas students. The following seven simple but effective practices below encourage good practice and maintenance of your Tier 4 Sponsorship licence:-

1. Plan ahead in a measured way – This is because sponsors cannot make additional CAS requests in a year and cannot request to increase in their CAS allocation of more than 50% of their previous years CAS allocation; 

2. Keep updated – Ensure you read and understand the new Tier 4 Sponsor Guidance that reflects the changes in terminology: ‘Highly Trusted Sponsor’ replaced with ‘Tier 4 Sponsor’, ‘A-rated Sponsor’ replaced with Probationary Sponsor’ and ‘Renewal of Highly Trusted Sponsors Status’ replaced with ‘Basic Compliance Assessment’; 

3. Retain immigration documents – Keep copies of any documents pertinent to the student’s immigration status e.g. passports, valid short term vignettes, biometric resident permits, ATAS certificates and police registration certificate (if applicable). It is also important to only admit a student to study if they hold an appropriate visa to study; 

4. Monitor progression by ensuring that student’s entry into courses demonstrate academic development. This separates the “genuine” students from those who may have entered the UK for purposes other than which their visa was granted; 

5. Keep student contact details updated so that students can be accessible to both you as their Tier 4 Sponsor as well as the UK Visas and Immigration [UKVI]; 

6. Report changes in student status to the UKVI – This may include changes in courses, periods of study abroad, late and re-submission of coursework, authorised or unauthorised absences, transferring and deferring courses and most importantly termination or withdrawal from studies; 

7. Complete your ‘Sites and Partnerships’ Form – All Tier 4 Sponsors would have received these by mid-April and must return them to the UKVI by 15 May 2015. Failure to do so could lead to CAS restrictions.

It has been widely circulated that international students contribute £7 billion to the UK economy as well as adding cultural diversity and sustainable benefits to our education system. Yet the Immigration Minister, has openly applauded the fall in student applications since 2010. Ahead of the 2015 General Election education organisations are pleading to the political parties for support by removing international student from net migration targets and enhancing opportunities for qualified graduates to stay in the UK to work and contribute to the economy.

Tijen Ahmet is immigration solicitor at SA Law

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