As part of our continuing fortnight-long focus on student immigration, we look today at how a Tier 4 sponsor may establish a "branch" or "partner" relationship with another education institution which, in our experience of advising the sector, is becoming an increasingly popular concept.

The UKBA policy guidance for Tier 4 sponsors provides that a sponsor can request to add a "branch" to its sponsor licence in scenarios where, for example, another entity is delivering a course (in whole or part) to students on behalf of the sponsor, prompting the need to regularise the arrangement in UKBA terms.

In order to add a branch, the Tier 4 sponsor needs to demonstrate to the UKBA that it has "common ownership or control" over the proposed branch entity. That common ownership or control may be shown in a corporate sense (eg by the sponsor controlling the board of the other entity) or in a more commercial sense (eg through a joint venture agreement).

The UKBA guidance also sets out the concept of a "partner institution", which is excluded from the requirement for common ownership or control necessary to establish a branch.

A partner institution can be named on the Tier 4 sponsor's licence if:

  • the partner institution will only provide pre-sessional courses on behalf of the sponsor to students who will go on to undertake their main course of study with that sponsor; or
  • both entities have highly trusted sponsor status, in which case a contractual partnership agreement can be put in place in order to bring about a partnership relationship.

The latter possibility was a recent addition to the UKBA guidance and presents an alternative to the branch arrangement in cases where both parties have highly trusted sponsor status.

In forming branch or partner relationships with other organisations, it is crucial that sponsors to carry out an appropriate due diligence exercise to assure themselves at a pre-contract stage that the potential branch or partner does not present a risk in terms of compliance with the requirements of the UKBA (or indeed present an unacceptable risk more generally). This is particularly important given that under the UKBA guidance, any investigation by the UKBA of a branch or partner can lead to action also being taken against the Tier 4 sponsor.