Independent schools sponsoring international students should ensure they are familiar with these changes, a summary of which can be found below.
A fundamental requirement of Tier 4 is that sponsors maintain Educational Oversight by the appropriate regulatory body and at the required rating throughout the time they hold a sponsor licence.
If an independent school with Tier 4 Sponsor status fails a statutory education inspection, they must report this to UKVI within 20 working days of publication of the report and can expect to have their allocation of Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) reduced to zero.
However, UKVI has now amended the Sponsor Guidance to advise that such a restriction will not be applied where "the failure relates solely to a minor fault".
Schools in this situation are therefore advised to make representations when reporting the inspection failing to UKVI, to explain why the failure should be considered to be a minor fault.
Additional Educational Oversight requirements can be found in Document 4 of the Tier 4 Sponsor Guidance, which was first published in April 2018 following the creation of the Office for Students (OfS) as the new regulator for higher education providers in England.
The overwhelming majority of independent schools will have no need to refer to this part of the Sponsor Guidance. This is because OfS registration is only required where an education provider offers courses at RQF level 4 and above, eg specialist schools offering Trinity College London vocational diploma courses at levels 5 and 6.
Tier 4 sponsors who are required to register with the OfS because they offer courses at that level to international students will be considered to be in breach of the Educational Oversight requirement if they failed to meet the registration deadline of 1 August 2019.
If you failed to meet that deadline, the updated Sponsor Guidance introduces transitional arrangements giving you an opportunity to advise UKVI of the delay and to explain the reasons you were unable to meet the deadline, before UKVI decides what action to take.
The Tier 4 Migrant Guidance has been updated to correct what UKVI describes as an error regarding the maintenance requirement for Tier 4 (General) visa applicants.
The guidance now makes it clear that for Tier 4 (General) visa applications, the funds which the student needs to show that they have available for boarding/accommodation costs can only be discounted by a maximum of £1,265 even if they have pre-paid more than that to their Tier 4 sponsor.
This change does not affect Tier 4 (Child) boarding students attending residential independent schools. The only impact for independent schools will be where they are sponsoring boarding pupils who will be over 18 when they apply for their Tier 4 visa (meaning they cannot apply under the Tier 4 (Child) category).
Course fees can still be deducted in full so Tier 4 (General) students who have paid all fees in advance will not need to demonstrate the availability of any additional funds if the practice of the school sponsoring is not to distinguish between boarding and course fees.
Appendix D to the Sponsor Guidance sets out the majority of the documents Tier 4 sponsors are required to retain in relation to the students they sponsor.
The main change to Appendix D relevant to Tier 4 sponsors is a clarification around Tier 4 students' initial arrival in the UK. Sponsors have always been required to retain evidence of the date Tier 4 students arrived in the UK and this continues to be the case. This will usually take the form of an ink stamp endorsement on the student's Tier 4 visa.
However, with the increased availability of passport eGates at most UK airports, Tier 4 students from countries permitted to use the eGates (including Australia, the USA, Japan and South Korea) may arrive in the UK without an Immigration Officer stamping their Tier 4 vignette.
Where the vignette has not been stamped, sponsors are required to obtain alternative evidence that the student arrived after the start date on the Tier 4 visa endorsed in their passport. This evidence could take the form of a boarding card or airline e-ticket. The reason for this is contained within the amended Appendix D:
"If a student enters the UK before the start date stated on their Tier 4 visa, they will not have entered with Tier 4 leave and will not have permission to study as a Tier 4 student. They will need to leave the UK and re-enter on or after the start date on their Tier 4 visa to activate their Tier 4 leave."