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Education Institutions – Tier 4 Sponsor Licence

If you are an Educational Institution registered in the UK then you have to apply for a Tier 4 Sponsor Licence to enroll students from outside the European Economic Area – EEA.

UK Sponsorship Licences are issued by the Home Office. It’s a rigorous application process requiring Educational institutions to manage and sponsor overseas students from non-EEA countries with due diligence and care with regards to their studies and student visas. You’ll need appropriate systems in place to monitor sponsored students.

The application process includes a possible visit from the Home Office to audit your personnel, student, financial, Tax and other matters affecting the Institution. They may visit your Institution to make sure you’re trustworthy and capable of carrying out your duties. Therefore businesses have to be fully abreast of the UK immigration laws and procedures to lodge the application, moreover preparation for a potential audits by the Home Office. UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will review your application form and supporting documents.

When you successfully apply for a Tier 4 licence, UKVI will give you a probationary sponsor licence. This is a transitional period lasting 12 months whilst you demonstrate you can fullfil all of your duties as a Tier 4 sponsor. You must apply for a basic compliance assessment after 12 months.

When you are successful in your Sponsor Licence then the Home Office will install a Sponsorship Management System (SMS). Through the SMS, your institution can issue Confirmations of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) – this is a unique reference number provided to overseas students who will be applying for student visas to enter the UK.

Sponsorship Management System (SMS)

The Sponsor Licence is managed by a system called the Sponsorship Management System – SMS. This is an online system. On your successful application, Home Office will give access to the SMS. All contacts with the Home Office will take place via the SMS.

You’ll need to assign people within your Institution to manage and operate the SMS. There are three main positions and important roles within these positions

  • Authorising officer –This is usually at an executive level who can make decisions affecting the institution and its people.
  • Key contact – your main point of contact with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). The key contact will have day to day operations and the main contact with the Home Office.
  • level 1 user – responsible for all day-to-day management of your licence using the SMS

These roles can be filled by the same person or different people. However the persons should be based in the UK most of the time, not be an agent contracted for a specific project, not be subject to a bankruptcy or debt relief order of any nature and not have a history of non-compliance with sponsor requirements

The Home Office also requires fit and suitable persons to be in above positions and roles. Therefore you must make certain that the personnel holding the positions must fullfil the suitability criteria set by the Home Office. You will have to sufficiently demonstrate to the Home Office that the personnel holding positions within the SMS –

  • not have an unspent criminal conviction
  • been fined by UKVI in the past 12 months
  • been reported to UKVI or broken the law
  • been a key person at a sponsor that had its licence revoked in the last 12 months

You can assign the role of a key contact and/or level 1 user to a UK-based legal representative. However the role of the authorising officer should be one from the institution at an executive level.

The Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS)

You can issue a CAS via the SMS. This is a unique reference number which a student receives from you when you are satisfied that the student is eligible to pursue a course of studies. The Student then includes that reference number in his application for his student visa to confirm that he has received a confirmed place in the educational institution and also confirms his eligibility.

It is vital therefore at the time of making an application for a sponsorship, you must request and specify the number of CAS you would need annually. The number must include:

  • existing students who you expect to apply for an extension
  • new students you want to sponsor

You may request a CAS allocation of up to 50 per cent of your current student body. Your student body must comprise UK, EU or Swiss nationals.

Allocation of CAS as per your request is not automatic. You must provide evidence to support your request, as well as your educational oversight report.

Essentials before an application for Sponsorship is made

When making an application for a Sponsor Licence you must make certain that the institution meets all the eligibility criteria as specified by the Home Office. Your facilities and sites as an educational provider has to be in line with the requirements on Home Office guidelines. This includes –

  • Tier 4 educational oversight inspection or a statutory education inspection , and you must have achieved the required rating; or
  • be recognised as an overseas HEI offering short-term ‘study abroad’ programmes in your own premises in the UK.

Student Monitoring

The educational institutions have the burden of monitoring the overseas students –

  • does not arrive for their course;
  • is absent without permission for a significant period;
  • leaves their course earlier than expected; or
  • is asked to leave the course.

You are expected to keep adequate records of the students who have entered the country using a CAS number issued by you. It is essential that you maintain student files with their passport copies, visa copies and Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). You must hold these records and review and update the same. Such records must be provided when the Home Office visits or requests you to do so.

Where there has been a breach of sponsor duties, UKVI will consider the nature of the breach and may take compliance action against you.

Call us on 0808 168 8677 (local rate) to find out more about our Educational Institutions law services or alternatively go to "Meet the Team" to contact one of our specialists directly.

With solicitors offices in Battersea, Hanover Square London, Harlesden, Harrow and Wembley, Hodders Law can provide the services of a local solicitor backed up by the strength of a big firm expertise.

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