The Administrative Court in Manchester has dismissed a private college of further education’s judicial review claim against the revocation of its ability to sponsor migrant students.

The Global Vision College (“GVC”) in Manchester, the subject last year of a critical early-day motion, had its application for highly trusted sponsor status rejected, and consequently its Tier 4 sponsor licence revoked by the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

An education institution with a sponsor’s licence will issue a prospective migrant student a confirmation of acceptance for studies, or CAS.  The student uses the CAS in support of their visa application.  The visa application may be refused if there is a problem with the CAS, or if there are other grounds for refusal under the Immigration Rules. 

In order to obtain highly trusted sponsor status and to retain a Tier 4 sponsor’s licence, one requirement of the Policy Guidance is that the institution’s “refusal rate” (ie the percentage of relevant refusals by of visa applications made by students) must be less than 20%; the implication being that if a sponsor’s refusal rate is high, it might have a less than rigorous approach to student selection.  However, the Secretary of State has a discretion to depart from the 20% rule in exceptional cases.

The Secretary of State rejected GVC’s application on the basis that its refusal rate was 34%.  GVC complained that almost half of the visa refusals had wrongfully and unlawfully been based on the students being unable to confirm to an Entry Clearance Officer how GVC had assessed their English-language ability.  The GVC argued the Secretary of State should therefore have exercised her discretion to make an exception to the 20% rule.

The Administrative Court found that this was not the reason for the refusals.  Rather, there had been discrepancies between what the students had said in interviews with Entry Clearance Officers about the assessment of their English, and what the CASs had said.  This discrepancy undermined the veracity of the CASs, and the applications had been refused on that basis.

 The Court held:

  • It was not unlawful for an Entry Clearance Officer to ask questions of a visa applicant with a view to checking the veracity of a CAS, and then to refuse a visa application on the basis of the veracity of a CAS being undermined.  Nor was there a requirement, in law, of express advance notice of such a line of questioning.
  • In the absence of unlawfulness, the Secretary of State was not required to exercise her discretion to depart from the 20% rule. It was not enough for a sponsor strongly to disagree with the reasons for individual refusals; this was not “exceptional”.
  • Indeed, a refusal rate of 20% allowed significant leeway for refusals based on matters which a sponsor could not reasonably anticipate.  The very purpose of having a rate-based rule was to avoid the need routinely to re-examine individual visa refusals at the time of a sponsor’s licence application.