On 29 July 2014 both the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the Home Secretary, Theresa May,announced ‘a new crackdown on immigration abuses […] as part of the Government’s long-term economic plan to secure a better future for Britain’.

As part of this ‘crackdown’, the Home Secretary announced that tougher rules will be imposed on universities and colleges which sponsor international students to study in the UK. From November 2014, the HTS refusal rate will be halved to 10%. Therefore, if more than one in ten student visa applications are rejected, Tier 4 sponsors will risk losing their sponsor licence (including Tiers 2 and 5 if under the same licence) and, in turn, the right to recruit and sponsor overseas students.  Sponsors have a three month grace period to re-examine and improve their admissions procedures to ensure that their refusal rate remains within the new limit. 

Currently, educational institutions cannot attain Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) status if 20% or more of the migrant students, to whom places have been offered, are refused visas.  For the past few months, Penningtons Manches has speculated that this HTS requirement may be lowered; this has been due to not only the message in the Immigration Minister’s first speech, but also the recent issues with English language testing and Home Office audits.

The details of how the above change will be implemented is expected to be published shortly in the new Sponsor Guidance and we will provide a further update at that time.

Sponsors should review their HTS rates immediately and especially their refusal rate and take steps to reduce this where it is of concern. Such steps should include a review of the reasons for refusal to enable sponsors to address any weaknesses in their processes.