On 16 March 2017 the Home Office published its Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules. The implications for Tier 4 sponsors are again not particularly far-reaching and it is anticipated that the Government will publish a consultation later this year prior to making any further changes which affect the sector.

1. Working week defined

Tier 4 students, who are allowed to work, are limited to the number of hours that they can work each week. The UKVI has now defined that a “week” is to run from Monday to Sunday. Therefore, students, employers and sponsors need to make sure that they adhere to this definition to remain compliant with the Immigration Rules. This change brings clarity to both students and employers, who have in the past grappled with the definition of the working week with some applying a “rolling week” definition.

2. Genuineness test extended

In a change that will impact independent schools, the genuineness test will now also apply to 16 and 17 year olds sponsored under Tier 4 (Child). Until now, only 16 and 17 year olds sponsored under Tier 4 (General) had to meet this requirement.

One of the main reasons for refusals of student applications under Tier 4 (General) is credibility. We therefore expect to see an increase in refusals of Tier 4 (Child) students. This in turn may impact the independent schools’ Basic Compliance Assessment (BCA) refusal rate which we understand currently sits on average at just over 5%. We therefore recommend that independent schools tighten up their recruitment processes, as discretion in assessing their BCA application is applied on a case by case basis.

3. Additional requirements for children

Tier 4 students under 18 years of age are already required to provide confirmation from their parents or legal guardian (or just one parent if that parent has sole legal responsibility for the child) that they consent to the child's travel, reception and care in the UK. From 6 April, an original or notarised copy of one of the following documenets can be used to evidence the relationship:

(i) a birth certificate showing the names of the applicant’s parent(s),

(ii) a certificate of adoption showing the names of the applicant’s parent(s) or legal guardian, or

(iii) a court document naming the applicant’s legal guardian.

Sponsors should be aware that the requirement to obtain consent from both parents (where applicable) has always been in place. We have noted during compliance audits that the terms and conditions and consent letters relied on by some sponsors only request a signature from one parent. They should therefore review their processes. While there is no current requirement on sponsors to obtain evidence of the relationship, it is recommended that they do this.

4. Rules relaxed for probationary sponsors

The restriction on the level of course that can be offered by sponsors with probationary status to Tier 4 students has been lifted. From 6 April probationary sponsors will be able to sponsor Tier 4 students, under 18 years of age, on courses at Level 3 on the Regulated Qualification Framework (RQF)/ Level 6 in the Scottish Credit and Qualification Framework (SCQF).

5. Welcome news for some Government/international scholarship students

Only Tier 4 students who have received financial sponsorship from a Government or international sponsorship agency, which covers both fees and maintenance, will now be required to obtain unconditional written consent from their sponsor prior to switching to an economic route, eg Tier 2. The rules previously required all those in receipt of financial sponsorship from a Government or international sponsorship agency to provide such consent.

6. New time limit exemption - Maritime and Coastguard Agency

Tier 4 (General) students, aged 18 or above, are normally only allowed to study courses below degree level for two years. From 6 April this time limit is being extended to three years where the below degree level course is subject to a regulatory requirement by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to spend at least 12 months at sea.

7. New exemption from academic progression

Students applying for certain intercalated courses, or applying to complete their main course after a period of intercalation, will be exempt from the academic progression requirement. This applies to bachelor, masters and PhD courses in medicine, veterinary medicine and science, or dentistry.

8. Loans and siblings – maintenance changes

An amendment has been made to the rules on maintenance to allow loan funds to be paid directly to the educational institution in the UK. The living costs portion of the loan can then be released to the applicant before or on arrival in the UK.

In addition, Tier 4 (Child) applicants, with a younger sibling (under 12) who is also coming to the UK under Tier 4 (Child) and is accompanied by their parent on the ‘Parent of a Tier 4 (Child)’ route, can now demonstrate maintenance on the basis that they will reside with their parent(s).

9. Overstayers and re-entry ban

Unless an exception applies, the period of overstay which will not result in an automatic re-entry ban being imposed has been reduced from 90 to 30 days. Educational institutions assigning CASs to students need to make sure that they are alert to this new limit as it may impact their refusal rate.

In addition, the UKVI has clarified that CASs assigned to Tier 4 students must confirm that the course starts within 28 days of an applicant’s leave ending or the start of the period of overstay.

As a reminder, the 28 day grace period to overstayers was reduced to 14 days from 24 November 2016. For further information on this, please read our previous article entitled 'Changes impacting all applications' here.