The updated guidance includes some useful clarifications for those universities, which are currently in the process of sponsoring new international students.
As we have reported previously, distance learning courses are not normally suitable for Tier 4 sponsorship, but this restriction has been relaxed in response to the pandemic. Updated guidance issued by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) now confirms that this concession will continue throughout the 2020/21 academic year. The guidance confirms that new and returning Tier 4 students who will start or continue studying through distance or blended learning can continue to do so after the summer holidays and throughout the 2020/21 academic year 'provided they intend to transition to face-to-face learning as soon as circumstances allow.'
Tier 4 sponsors are reminded of their attendance monitoring duties and that where students are distance learning, they should be expected to use online contact points, such as logging on to online learning portals and attending online lessons, to monitor attendance wherever possible. Sponsors are also warned that if a student stops engaging with their distance learning, whether overseas or in the UK, their sponsorship must be withdrawn immediately.
Many universities will be wondering about whether to assign CAS (Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies) for students joining the university in September 2020, when some of those students might delay their entry to the UK until January 2021 or possibly later. If they have accepted a place at the university and will start studying in September, then our view is that in most cases it will be appropriate to assign the CAS now.
Since 8 June, most travellers to the UK have been required to complete a form advising where they will be staying; they must then remain at that address for 14 days following their arrival. These requirements will be kept under review and may be watered down or withdrawn altogether in the coming weeks, but it is still possible that students arriving in the UK in August or September will need to self-isolate for 14 days.
Tier 4 visas can be issued with a start date up to one month before the start of the course, which would allow enough time for a 14-day self-isolation period before term starts, but a visa will be issued with a later start date if the applicant puts a later travel date on the visa application form.
Therefore, if you will be asking students to self-isolate away from the university before the start of term, you need to ensure they plan to arrive in the UK in time to do this and give a travel date on the visa application form at least 14 days before the start of term. They may also need to make special arrangements for where they will spend the self-isolation period.
The above reflects guidance as at 22 June 2020. We will continue to update you as the situation develops.