The Home Office has issued new Tier 4 Sponsor Guidance (version 07/2014) (“the Guidance”) to be used for all Tier 4 applications made on or after 1 July 2014. It remains in a similar format to the previous Sponsor Guidance, split into 3 separate documents: i) Applying for/renewing a Tier 4 sponsor licence and HTS status; ii) Assigning CAS and sponsoring students; and iii) Sponsor duties and compliance.

Applying for/Renewing a Tier 4 sponsor licence and HTS status   

Wording has been clarified in relation to students studying at a branch or partner institution, making it clear that the Home Office will take action, including revocation of your licence, if there are any compliance issues with students you sponsor at a head office, branch or partner. The same applies if there are found to be any issues with the partner institution itself. We would advise you have robust systems in place to ensure you, as the sponsor, retain control of your students and that if students are sponsored by a partner or branch that you undertake or build in to your Service Level Agreement independent audits to be undertaken.   

In considering how many CAS to award, the Guidance sets out some additional factors such as the justification given for the number of CAS requested and the number, type and level of courses provided by your institution. You will therefore want to ensure that you have fully explained the reasons for requesting the number of CAS, so the Home Office can make an informed decision as to the number of CAS you should receive.     

Assigning CAS and sponsoring students

The Guidance now states that you must take all reasonable steps to ensure that you are satisfied through your own assessment that a student meets the language competence requirements. You may therefore want to consider as a minimum, interviewing students, or undertaking your own testing. It is no longer sufficient to rely solely on the test results.

Before assigning a CAS, the sponsor should be satisfied that a student is aware that they must study at the sponsor’s institution (unless studying at a partner institution or undertaking supplementary study) and that they are aware of their working restrictions. It will therefore be important that this information is properly conveyed to the students before issuing a CAS.

The Guidance has clarified the position in relation to students studying a new course with the same sponsor. If a student has completed a course for which they were given permission to stay and then chooses to do a different course, a new visa application should be made unless the student has enough time left on their permission to stay to complete the new course.

If a student has not completed the course for which they were given permission to stay, they will need permission from the Home Office to change course unless the new course is at the same or a higher level, or at a lower level provided the conditions and requirements of their permission to stay would remain the same. If these conditions are met and a student has enough time left on their permission to stay to finish the new course, you do not need to issue a new CAS. If there is not enough time left on a student’s permission to stay to finish the new course, a new CAS is required. There is no guidance as to when the new visa should be applied for but it is recommended that this is undertaken as soon as possible.       Any new course must continue to represent academic progression from their last course, and if it is shorter than their original course, you must notify the Home Office immediately.

Sponsor duties and compliance

The Home Office has added to the list of circumstances in which they will consider revoking your licence, which include where the Home Office find that there are compliance issues with any sites, branches or partner institutions named on your licence, or if there are any compliance issues with the students at your sites, branches or partner institutions. The Home Office is looking closely at branch and partner arrangements to ensure that such arrangements are complaint with the Guidance and that sponsors are complying with their sponsor obligations in practice.

Other Issues

According to the May 2014 migration statistics quarterly report, in the year ending March 2014 student visas were down approximately a third in comparison with the June 2010 peak. We have also noted differences in migrant student numbers between the further education sector and the higher education sector. The further education sector has seen a fall of 31% compared with the higher education sector which has seen an increase of 7% in student visa applications. 

As discussed in our previous e-briefing last month, in June the Home Office announced that ETS can no longer provide SELTs for prospective and current students who want to use their TOEFL and TOEIC tests in support of their Tier 4 visa applications. The Home Office continue to investigate and are carrying out visits to education institutions with a particular focus on recruitment practices and English language, with London remaining a priority. 

New right to work checks are required for employers of migrant students. Migrant students are typically permitted either 10 or 20 hours of work during term time. Employers therefore need to know what constitutes term time. The new rules require employers to obtain and retain details of the term and vacation dates for the course which the employee is undertaking. Such evidence will need to be provided by you as the student’s sponsor. You should therefore expect to receive requests from students for this information. The Home Office suggests that the following documents are acceptable:

  • printout from the student’s education institution’s website or other material published by the institution setting out its timetable for the student’s course of study;
  • a copy of a letter or e-mail addressed to the student from his or her education institution confirming term time dates for the student’s course; or
  • a letter addressed to the employer from the education institution confirming term time dates for the student’s course.