We are rounding off this week's series of special postings on UKBA matters with a closer look at the principles relating to the issuing by Tier 4 sponsors of "Confirmations of Acceptance of Studies" (or CASs as they are often referred to). The issuing of a CAS by a sponsor starts the process by which the student can apply to the UKBA for leave to enter and remain in the UK for the duration of their studies. A sponsor must therefore only issue a CAS if they are satisfied that the student both intends and is able to follow the course of study concerned (for example, they have the necessary qualifications necessary). The sponsor will need to make appropriate checks on the student and their qualifications in order to seek comfort on this point.

A CAS may be issued only for a course leading to an "approved qualification", which effectively means a qualification which has been validated or is recognised by certain bodies as set out in the UKBA guidance.

In addition, when a CAS is assigned to a student to study at degree level and above, the sponsor must ensure that the student is competent in English language at a minimum level B2 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). HEIs can choose the way in which they assess English language competence, provided the HEI ensures that the student is proficient in speaking, listening, reading and writing. Non-HEI sponsors are required to secure English language evidence in the form of a test from one of the UKBA's approved test providers.

A CAS is valid for six months from the date that it is assigned. If it is not used within that period, the CAS will lapse and the student will need to seek a fresh CAS in order to make an application to the UKBA.

In certain circumstances, it will be necessary for a sponsor to issue a student with a fresh CAS during their course of studies. This could be, for example, where a student needs to extend their stay in the UK to complete an existing course, or to take a different course with the same sponsor. The student will need to be issued with any new CAS in advance of the expiry of their present period of leave in order to ensure a continuity of status in respect of their leave to remain in the UK. If a student wishes to take a course in the UK after they have finished another programme in the UK, the secondary course must represent academic progression from the previous course. This means that the course should normally be at a level above the previous course of study, although the UKBA does recognise that, in certain circumstances, academic progression may involve further study at the same level. Where a student changes to a new course with a different sponsor, the student must reapply to the UKBA with a CAS from their new sponsor.

Sponsors will therefore need to take steps to ensure that they have effective systems in place to ensure that they only admit genuine students to courses. Sponsors will be assisted in this task by carrying out appropriate checks on a student's background and qualifications before taking steps to issue a CAS via the sponsor management system.

More to come next week on UKBA matters, including a review of the arrangements around compliance visits and branch and partner institutions.