On 16 March, the Home Office published 269 pages of changes to the Immigration Rules. Buried in the detail are some significant changes for independent school sponsors.

This includes one small but noteworthy concession achieved after concerted lobbying of the Home Office. But there is bad news for over 16s, who may now face UKVI interviews as part of their application for a visa.

Sponsored Siblings

An anomaly of the Immigration Rules has meant, until now, that day pupils aged over 12 have been unable to reside with his/her parent who is in the UK on a 'Parent of a Tier 4 Child' visa looking after a younger sibling. This has meant that schools have either had to insist that the older child move into boarding or find alternative residential care arrangements involving UK nationals.

From 6 April, the Rules change for new applicants so that they may apply for their visa on the basis that they will reside with their parent.

Credibility Interviews for Over 16s

Under Tier 4 General, all applicants aged 16 and over are required to satisfy the Secretary of State that they are a 'genuine student'. This rule has been implemented by requiring applicants to undertake an interview, either in person or on the telephone. If, as a result of this interview, the Home Office is not satisfied that the applicant is a genuine student, or cannot speak English to the required standard, the application is refused. Failure to attend an interview without reasonable explanation also results in refusal.

From 6 April, this approach will be extended so that it applies to Tier 4 Child applicants aged 16 and over.

Proof of Relationship for Parental Consent Letters

Tier 4 applicants who are under the age of 18 must provide confirmation from a parent or guardian that they consent to the arrangements for the child’s travel to, and reception and care in, the UK.

From 6 April, evidence of the relationship between the applicant and the person providing consent will be required as part of the application. This will require original or notarised copies of one of the following:

  • a birth certificate showing the names of the applicant’s parent(s)
  • a certificate of adoption showing the names of the applicant’s parent(s) or legal guardian
  • a Court document naming the applicant’s legal guardian

What Steps Should You Take?

Whilst the sibling concession is to be welcomed, the introduction of credibility interviews to test whether 16 or 17 year old pupils are genuine students is a retrograde step. It will require schools to think carefully about how they can assist pupils to prepare for what can be a stressful and intimidating interview.

UKVI publishes information about the factors to be considered in credibility interviews. Schools should carefully consider how they can help prepare a pupil applicant with questions concerning:

  • the immigration history of the applicant, in the UK and other countries
  • the applicant’s education history, study and post-study plans, specifically including 'the credibility of the applicant’s rationale for, knowledge of, and level of research undertaken into, the proposed course of study and sponsoring institution, and living arrangements in the UK'
  • the personal and financial circumstances of the applicant
  • the qualification, course provider and agents

Working with reputable agents will be key, as will preparing some plain English information for pupil applicants about the courses they will take, the school, its locality and the opportunities that study at the school will create for them.