The latest Tier 4 sponsor guidance has been published and is effective from 6 April. The guidance has been amended to implement the immigration rules and some additional changes which tighten certain areas of compliance.

The main changes are as follows:

1. BCA – limit imposed on discretionary assessments

When considering a BCA application, the UKVI will no longer conduct a discretionary assessment where a sponsor has previously failed a BCA on three consecutive applications but had discretion applied each time. This is likely to impact small users or independent schools which were previously able to rely on discretion being applied on a case by case basis.

Furthermore, the guidance now lists failing a BCA as a “serious breach” of sponsor compliance.

2. Educational Oversight - points to note

Education providers now have an obligation to notify UKVI within 20 working days should they fail to achieve the required rating in their Educational Oversight Inspection. Failing to do so is now classified as a breach in sponsorship duties. Previous guidance on this point put the onus on the Educational Oversight bodies to notify the UKVI of the outcome of an inspection.

Private providers are no longer required to wait two years before applying for an Educational Oversight Inspection in a re-application for a sponsor licence. However, this restriction remains in place for overseas HEIs.

3. Continuing to teach students following UKVI action

Legacy sponsors: the guidance has been updated to allow sponsors with this status to continue teaching their Tier 4 students until their leave expires. Legacy sponsors whose licence will expire prior to the students’ leave will be able to apply to renew their licence.

Revoked sponsors: the guidance has been updated to specify a limit of six months on the period sponsors can continue to teach students after their licence is revoked or the end of the student’s current academic year (this will be considered on an individual student basis).

4. Changes to care arrangements for Tier 4 (Child) students

In response to recent welfare and safeguarding issues which have arisen concerning Tier 4 (Child) students from certain countries, the sponsor guidance has been amended, tightening up the procedure relating to the students’ care arrangements in the UK.

As a result, sponsors are now required to notify the UKVI via the SMS within ten working days if there is any change in the care arrangements for the child from being cared for by their parent, who is in the UK on a Parent of a Tier 4 child visa. In addition, if the Tier 4 (Child) student is 16 or 17 years old and will be living independently, the sponsor must submit a letter from the student’s parent(s)/legal guardian confirming their consent.

If the Tier 4 (Child) student will be residing with a resident British citizen or other UK resident who is a close relative or in a private foster care arrangement, the sponsor must submit the additional evidence for the new care arrangements on behalf of the Tier 4 (Child) student, as set out in the Tier 4 Migrant Guidance at paragraph 280.

Sponsors should also note that where they have concerns regarding the welfare of Tier 4 (Child) students, they are under an obligation to notify their safeguarding officer (as applicable).

5. Assigning CAS to continuing students – practical advice from UKVI

UKVI makes what it considers to be practical recommendations to students who need to apply to extend their stay in the UK and cannot do so due to academic progression and/or the type of institution they are studying at. UKVI suggests that as soon as students realise that they will need an extension to complete their course, they should make the application from overseas and not wait until their leave is due to expire. It should be made at the earliest opportunity and ideally in their next semester break. For further details on this change, please see paragraphs 5.122 of the sponsor guidance.

6. Publicly funded college mergers – some guidance

UKVI has now published detailed guidance to publicly funded colleges going through mergers. They should consider the ramifications of such mergers on the sponsor licence and Educational Oversight inspection. This has always been a complex area of law and detailed immigration, corporate and regulatory advice should be sought prior to embarking on any merger negotiations.