The Home Office has published new Tier 4 sponsor guidance, which took effect from 6 April 2014.  This is the first version to be published in three separate documents:

  • Document 1 - Applying for or renewing a Tier 4 sponsor licence and highly trusted sponsor status
  • Document 2 - Assigning CAS and sponsoring students
  • Document 3 - Sponsors’ duties and compliance

We have summarised the main changes below.

APPLYING FOR OR RENEWING A TIER 4 SPONSOR LICENCE AND HIGHLY TRUSTED SPONSOR STATUS

Supporting documents

The time period for forwarding supporting evidence when applying for/renewing a Tier 4 sponsor licence has been reduced from 14 calendar days to five working days.

Authorising Officer

Guidance has been provided on whom sponsors should nominate as their Authorising Officer. 

Paragraph 87 states:

‘The person you nominate to this role must be your most senior person responsible for the recruitment of students and ensuring that all of your sponsor duties are met.’

This is in line with what Penningtons Manches’ immigration team has been advising sponsors.  Whilst carrying out compliance audits and health checks, we often found that an education establishment’s Authorising Officer was not always the most appropriate person.  Current licence holders should therefore review the Authorising Officer’s position and consider whether the role has been allocated to the most appropriate person.  As a reminder, the educational establishment is responsible for the actions of the Authorising Officer; therefore, the individual who is nominated must fully understand the importance of the role.

Offences and civil penalties

The Home Office has clarified that, when referring to a civil penalty and a fine being paid ‘within the given time limit’, it means that the sponsor has either paid the fine in full within that time limit, or has entered into a repayment plan which is still in force and all of the payments are up-to-date.  If the sponsor has defaulted on a repayment plan, the Home Office will not accept this as payment having been made within the given time limit.

Tier 4 premium

Following a previous pilot, the Home Office launched Tier 4 premium customer service in 2013.  Sponsors who pay the fee and successfully apply for premium customer service are rated as HTS (Premium).  The current guidance makes the point that ‘premium customer service is an enhanced customer service and is not a reflection of your level of compliance.  Sponsors who do not opt to apply for premium customer service will not be deemed as ‘lesser rated’’.  Although the clarification is welcome, it is noted that the Tier 4 guidance for students does not make this distinction. Therefore, this still unfortunately leaves the impression that those who have paid for premium customer service are in fact premium HTS sponsors.

Time limits

In relation to limits, where there has been a failure to submit an application for HTS or where an application has been submitted, the Home Office will allow sponsors 20 working days (previously 28 calendar days) to submit representations.

ASSIGNING 'CONFIRMATION OF ACCEPTANCE FOR STUDIES' AND SPONSORING STUDENTS

Study location

The Home Office has clarified that study undertaken at a student’s work placement is not a temporary authorised location and that it therefore cannot contribute to the 15 hours of classroom study per week that is required for students studying a course under NQF Level 6.  The Home Office has further clarified that ‘in the case of the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Durham and London, the university premises are taken to include the premises of self-governing colleges (which include permanent private halls and approved foundations) of the university named in the statutes of those universities, although it is open to the colleges to hold a separate sponsor licence’.

SPONSORS' DUTIES AND COMPLIANCE

Illegal entrants and immigration offences

In the new guidance, the Home Office has added a paragraph setting out how to report illegal immigrants and other immigration offences.  In order to report an immigration offence, please click here.

Time limits

From 6 April 2014, the following time limits apply:

  • material changes in circumstance must be reported to the educational oversight body within 20 working days of the change taking place.
  • where a sponsor licence is suspended, the sponsor will now have 20 working days to submit representations. Highly trusted sponsor status (HTS)

Following the current Immigration Minister’s first speech it was widely reported that the Home Office was considering introducing changes to the HTS criteria, including lowering the HTS refusal criteria from 20% to 10% and the introduction of HTS+.  We understand that such changes are still being considered, and it is hoped that the Home Office will introduce transitional arrangements leading up to the implementation of any changes, allowing sponsors time to ensure that they can meet any new criteria.