Tier 4- UPDATE FOR SPONSORS
Following recent reforms of the student visa category, the UK Border Agency has announced that all Tier 4 sponsors must obtain highly trusted sponsor status and receive a satisfactory review or inspection by one of the publicly recognised inspection bodies approved for Tier 4 purposes. These are Ofsted and its equivalents in the devolved administrations, the Quality Assurance Agency and the Department for Education-approved inspectorates for independent schools. As announced, the UK Border Agency stated on 13th June 2011 that the QAA and the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) would extend their activities in order to offer inspections to private education providers sponsoring international students. Educational oversights by the QAA will include higher education providers and pre-sessional providers throughout the UK. The ISI will inspect further education providers in English language schools.
It is advised that mixed higher education and further education providers apply to QAA or the appropriate further education inspectorate, depending on whether the educational providers offer predominantly higher education or further education courses. It is said that the QAA and ISI have already consulted interested Tier 4 sponsors in respect of the procedures and standards, furthermore, the ISI will be publishing a final version of its standards next week (beginning of first week of August).
The UK Border Agency confirms the following:
Religious, Montessori and Steiner colleges of further education
Further colleges with a clear religious purpose will be inspected for Tier 4 purposes by The Bridge Schools Inspectorate (BSI). Further education Montessori ad Steiner providers will be inspected by the School Inspection Service (SIS). Standards of each of these will be published soon.
Further education and English language colleges in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland
Further education colleges and language schools in Wales are obliged to apply to ISI (or BSI for colleges with a religious purpose, or SIS for Steiner or Montessori colleges). This is in line with arrangements for colleges in England.
All further education colleges and English language schools in Scotland are obliged to apply to Education Scotland for inspection who will be confirming their procedures in the near future.
Further education colleges and language schools in Northern Ireland will be informed of their position in the near future.
Deadlines for applying for educational oversight
It must be noted that there are certain deadlines to obey.
- Existing sponsors:
o All existing Tier 4 sponsors wishing to be inspected or audited must apply prior to a certain date in order to be able to continue to sponsoring new international students under Tier 4.
o All applications for educational oversight by QAA are being accepted now. Those requiring inspection by the ISI will be accepted from 1 August 2011 and onwards.
- New sponsors
o All higher education providers not already audited by QAA will need to apply for such an inspection by 9 September 2011.
o Private further education colleges in England and Wales with a clear religious purpose should apply for inspection by the BSI by 7 October 2011.
o Private further education Montessori and Steiner providers in England and Wales should apply for inspection by the SIS by 7 October 2011
o Private further education providers and language schools in Scotland will be able to seek inspection from Education Scotland by 11 November 2011
o Inspection arrangements for private further education providers and language schools in Northern Ireland will be announced in due time.
Overseas higher education institutions operating in the UK
Additional to the above, the QAA provide educational oversight of certain foreign providers offering full recognised overseas degree programmes in the UK. They will be working with their counterparts in the provider's country of origin.
For accredited US institutions listed on the US Department of Education website which offer US degree courses, they will be able to apply to the QAA with associate members (or third party providers) of the Association of American Study Abroad Programmes UK (AASAP/UK).
Such providers are advised to contact QAA as soon as possible in order to obtain advice as to the recognition of the provider as well as obtaining confirmation as to whether it is able to review its education provision.
Consultation on criteria for highly trusted sponsor status
The UK Border Agency announce that they are consulting on draft revised criteria for sponsors applying for highly trusted sponsor (HTS) status for Tier 4.
In the meantime, all existing sponsors can apply for Highly Trusted Status before they have received a satisfactory inspection or review report from the appropriate educational oversight body.
Tier 4 prospective sponsors which are not already on the Tier 4 register are advised to apply for educational oversight first. In order to achieve a satisfactory educational oversight outcome, such sponsors must be able to demonstrate an established track record in providing quality teaching in the UK which involves teaching UK or EEA students prior to sponsoring international students.
28 July 2011
The UK Border Agency has announced some new reviews on the Tier 4 student category. Firstly, with regards to the new educational oversight arrangements where the Quality Assurance Agency (known as QAA) and the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) will now extend their activities to cover privately funded providers. They are also in discussion with other approved bodies. In respect of the accreditation of the previous 5 bodies, the UK Border Agency have set up a transitional period whereby any sponsor who was previously accredited by a private accrediting body and whose accreditation lapses will continue to be able to sponsor new students. This is provided that they meet all other requirements such as applying to the relevant approved body by the appropriate date which will be specified and obtaining the Highly Trusted Sponsor status in time. They must not have had their licence suspended or revoked. Where an institution’s accreditation expires, they must apply under the new processes which will be announced very shortly. In the interim, their accreditation stands as it is.
Where a college voluntarily withdraws from accreditation during this period, they will be able to sponsor students so long as they have applied for inspection by one of the approved bodies.
Where a college voluntarily withdraws from accreditation or where the accreditation body withdraws accreditation during the interim period, the UK Border Agency will ensure that the institution remains compliant with its immigration duties and will endeavour to take the appropriate action needed where it is found that they are not in line with their duties.
Institutions that hold HTS status but were accredited by one of the former accrediting bodies needing to review their HTS status will be permitted to do in the usual way. They will need to apply and meet the new educational oversight inspection requirements by dates as specified by the oversight bodies.
HTS (Highly Trusted Sponsors)
The HTS criteria are currently under review by the UK Border Agency. Changes will be announced in due course.
If a B-rated sponsor wishes to obtain HTS status they must meet their action plan and improve to A-rated. They must hold this rating for a duration of 6 months and then apply for HTS status.
The Interim limit will affect certain sponsors. All those affected have been notified in writing. The changes that are dependent on the sponsor, i.e. the English language, are based on CAS’s issued on or after 21st April 2011. Changes dependent on students are based on the date of when an application is made.
Interim limits are calculated based on the number of CAS’s issued that result in successful application for leave to enter or remain. All sponsors should have received a letter informing them whether the limit applies to them or not. The letter would also inform them of their allocation, this was implemented on 21st April 2011.
It is worth noting that the limit on CAS’s applies to sponsors who do not meet the new sponsor requirements. The intention of the limit is to prevent such sponsors from recruiting large numbers of students in the transitional period. The CAS limit applies to both new applications and extension ones. This due to the fact that the number of CASs allocated to each sponsor was based on the number they used for both new students and those extending in a 12 month period.
The sponsorship and employer’s helpline is open for all enquiries relating to technical and or policy related questions. The number for this is 0300 1234 699.
Post- Study Work
Students wishing to switch into the Tier 1 (Post study work) category should be aware that the UK Border Agency has provided a year’s notice of their intention to close this category. Graduates may be eligible to apply up to one year after graduation and despite their announced closure, the UK Border Agency continue to accept applications under this route until a formal closing date is posted.
The UK Border Agency state that each specific ground for refusal dictates any rights of appeal, applications from overseas attract an entitlement to administrative review only. Where an application is refused at the border, it may attract a right of appeal in the UK or overseas. However, in cases where the applicant has attempted deception, depending on individual circumstances, any further applications may be automatically refused.
Students who are in the UK may sponsor new dependants only if they meet the new requirements (as they are on a course of study at a Higher Education institution at or above NQF7 that is longer than 12 months or more or in case of a government-sponsored student, a course of 6 months or more). Student who have sponsored dependants previously but do not meet the new requirements may continue to sponsor their dependants however the dependants must apply for new leave within 3 months of the expiry of their previous leave and make an application at the same time as the main applicant.
A baby born in the UK to a points-based system migrant is not required to make an application for leave to remain however if they do travel they will need to obtain entry clearance upon return to the UK.
Dependants of such persons may apply to enter the UK as a general visitor in their own right. They are allowed to remain for a period of up to 6 months in a 12 month period. They are prohibited from employment. Non-visa nationals do not normally need to apply for a visa prior to travelling to the UK.
Maintenance & Low risk countries
All students must meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules and have the relevant funds for maintenance for at least 28 days prior to submitting an application. Students from the list of low-risk countries who wish to enter the UK to study at a Highly Trusted Sponsor Institution will be able to submit an application without the need of providing supporting documents in the first instance. Some students may be asked for documents where for instance, there is a concern or a random request in order to ensure that the process is not subjected to any form of abuse.
Sponsors are required to ensure that their students are able to complete the course of study. The assessment for this includes academic and wider factors, such as financial ability to complete a course. It is up to the sponsor to take the appropriate route of checking, although they will not be expected to seek copies of bank statements from all students.
Low- risk countries
The list of low risk countries will be amended annually, a period of at least 21 days’ notice will be given of the change to the Immigration Rules that specify the countries. No further countries will be added to the list outside the annual review process. Countries may be removed from the list only in rare circumstances. In extreme situations, all students may be requested to submit supporting documents and where this occurs, this will be widely published on the central and local websites. The UK Border Agency state that whilst they would not refuse an applicant solely on lack of supporting evidence with the initial application, applicants are strongly encouraged do so in order to avoid delays.
All sponsors will need to provide confirmation for all students who are taking their second or subsequent course. This will be through a statement in the free text field on the CAS and from April 2012 onwards, this will be in the form of a tick on the CAS form.
Even where a student is studying a course at the same level as previously, although the UK Border Agency note that studies can move laterally or in exceptional cases deteriorate, they must still represent genuine progression. The sponsor will need to justify their reasons for this if asked during a compliance visit.
Institutions will not need to confirm academic progression for students who have undertaken previous study outside the UK, such as students who have completed an undergraduate degree overseas but have applied to study at undergraduate level in the UK.
New Tier 4 rules for students
The UK Border Agency today announced that changes to the Tier 4 students are coming into affect today. The new published policy guidance is dated 21 April 2011. The changes to the Immigration Rules were brought about to prevent abuse of the system and to introduce tougher entrance criteria.
The changes require sponsors to achieve Highly Trusted Status by April 2012. Students at recognised bodies (Universities) will retain the right to work 20 hours per week during term time. Students at publicly funded FE colleges will be allowed to work 10 hours per week. Other students will not be allowed to work and work placements will be limited.
The UK Border Agency also announced that they will be closing the Tier 1 Post Study Work route as of April 2012.
22nd April 2011
Further changes to Tier 4 and Tier 1 post study work categories
The post study work route which allows graduates to work in the UK following the completion of their degrees will be open until April 2012. It was previously rumoured that the post study work route might be closed this year however, the UK Border Agency have issued new policy guidance for applicants applying after 5th April 2011.
The post study work route is valid for two years and cannot be extended. Under this category, the migrant does not need to work for a particular sponsor. 75 points for attributes is required in order to qualify along with ten points for English language and 10 points for maintenance. At the end of their two years, migrants will be expected either to leave the UK or to switch into another eligible category.
Possibility of switching into Tier 2 category for Tier 1 PSW
Those graduating from a UK university with a recognised degree, PGCE or PGDE will be able to switch into Tier 2 and there will be no limit on these switchers. They will only be permitted to switch from inside the UK and before the expiry of their leave. The normal Tier 2 requirements will apply (save for the resident labour market test).
The UK Border Agency also made recent announcements as to changes for student visas for overseas applicants such as tougher entrance criteria. The announcement follows a major public consultation on the reformation of the Tier 4 visa. The Home Office identified widespread abuse with many students not being accounted for.
The UK Border Agency announced that from April 2012, institutions will need to be classed as a Highly Trusted sponsor in order to sponsor students and that they will be required to undergo accreditation by the end of 2012. Students will be required to demonstrate an upper intermediate level of English (B2 level) as opposed to the lover intermediate level (B1) required now. Those who cannot speak English without an interpreter can be refused by UKBA staff.
Only students at universities and publicly funded further education colleges will be able to retain their worker rights whilst all other students will not be afforded a right to work.
Students at universities will be allowed to continue working 20 hours per week (part time) whilst FE College students will be allowed to work 10 hours per week (part time).
A further change will only allow post graduate students at university (on a course which is for more than 12 months duration) and Government sponsored students to bring their dependants. The dependants will be allowed to work.
The UKBA announced that it will introduce limits to the amount of time that can be spent in the UK on student visas to 3 years (for lower levels) and five years (for higher levels). Exceptions will be available for those studying at higher level for instance, to complete a PHD or where the field of professional study requires more than five years (such as medicine or architecture).
A summary of the new student policy can be found on the UKBA website.
The Government has also stated that it will reform all routes of entry to the UK in order to control immigration. It will also develop new entrepreneur route for ‘bright and innovative’ students who wish to do business in the UK.
The extended student visitor visa for migrants wishing to study English language
Students who wish to exclusively study an English language course in the UK will be able to apply for extended student visitor visas for up to a period of 11 months to enable them to do so. This will be introduced as of 13th January 2010 and will only be available to migrants applying from outside of the UK. The requirements under this category are the same as the current student visitor visa requirements. Work is prohibited and students are not allowed to bring their dependants, take placements or switch into other courses or extend their stay beyond their permitted leave.
Students who wish to study other courses in the UK for a period over 6 months, will need to apply under Tier 4 of the points based system. Non visa nationals however, who do not usually require a visa to study for longer than 6 months, will need to apply for an extended visa in order to study a longer English language course.
13th December 2010
Tier 4 reforms- Government proposals
On 7th December 2010, the Immigration Minister Damian Green announced Government proposals to ‘shake-up’ the student visa system including tougher entrance criteria. The Government will be more selective when considering Tier 4 applicants and revealed that currently, over 40 percent of migrant students in the UK are studying below degree level courses. Green stated that too many students abuse the system by arriving in the UK with a student visa and then staying on here to live and work instead. The target is therefore to reduce the net amount of migrants with a public consultation being launched in this respect. The proposals include the following:
· Reducing the amount of migrants studying below degree level courses
· Introducing tougher English language requirements
· Limiting students entitlement to work
· Making sure that students demonstrate academic progress
· Improving the accreditation of education providers a with a focus on more rigorous inspections
These proposals are just a part of the recent Government reforms being introduced over the immigration categories as a whole with the student category making up for two thirds of migrants each year.
It appears therefore, that the new Tier 4 proposals will restrict migration to those studying degree level courses unless the sponsor is a highly trusted sponsor. Migrants may have to pass a B2 level of English as opposed to the B 1 level which is a requisite now.
Important changes to the Tier 4 points-based system
Areas of change:
Starting 23 July 2010, after the judgement in the Judicial Review case by English UK new changes to the Immigration Rules mean that the minimum level of English language course that will be allowed under Tier 4 will be changed to B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference. Exemptions to the minimum level remain in place, these apply to Government-sponsored language students and students undertaking pre-sessional English language course before a degree course.
Change of education provider
Starting 23 July 2010, students who want to change to a sponsor with a Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) licence can begin their new course of study, at own risk, whilst waiting for the UK Border Agency to make a decision on their application of sponsor change.
Those applying to change to an A-or B- rated sponsors cannot begin their new course of study until a positive decision is received from the UK Border Agency on the application to change sponsor. To avoid delays, UK BA has put in place processes to prioritise applicants who wish to change to A- or B- rated sponsors.
Recent changes in USA legislation has changed the way the US Government deals with student loans, therefore from the 1st of July 2010, UK institutions taking part in the William D Ford Federal Direct Loan Programme (administered by US Department of Education) will be allowed to offer Federal Direct Loans to students from the USA who wish to study in the UK. UK Institutions that are involved in this programme have been contacted by the US Department of Education.
The above change affects migrants who wish to study under Tier 4. Under this programme a template letter has been agreed for use and a copy of this letter is being sent to all sponsors. Tier 4 sponsors participating in the programme need to use the template when prospective students from the USA are given loans; this is so that students can submit an entry clearance application to the UK.
International Baccalaureate qualifications students
UK Border Agency is conscious that students relying on International Baccalaureate qualifications awarded on 5 July 2010 will not be issued with a paper transcript of their results and will not receive their award certificates in time to apply for university courses starting this September 2010.
Therefore to allow these students to apply under Tier 4, provision to accept applications made by students relying on an International Baccalaureate qualification and have not received their original award certificate.
Secure English language tests
On 12 August 2010 the requirement for sponsors to asses prospective students’ competence in English language will be changed. Click here to find out more.