Jeremy Oppenheim, Regional Director and Policy Lead for the points-based system

The Points Based System represents the biggest shake up to immigration in 45 years. The new system allows the UK Border Agency to control migration more effectively. Almost 80 pre-existing routes to work, train or study in the UK have been replaced with five tiers, each with a clear rationale. For education providers, 11 existing student routes have been replaced by one tier with two categories (General and Child Student) and the process for students and providers is much simpler and transparent.

Since 31 March 2009 all educational establishments - be they colleges, universities or schools – require a valid Tier 4 sponsor licence if they wish to continue recruiting non-EEA (European Economic Area) students.

To obtain a Tier 4 sponsor licence establishments must demonstrate that they hold the appropriate accreditation or have passed the required inspection and will only be licensed where they can show that they can meet their sponsor licensing duties.

Students wishing to study at the UK’s world-class schools, colleges and universities through Tier 4 of the Points Based System must obtain 40 points:

  • 30 points are awarded for a valid visa letter issued by the educational establishment confirming a place to study at the institution and

  • 10 points are awarded where the student provides evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves during their studies

Later this year, we will introduce an electronic Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) to replace the visa letter. This will create a faster, electronic process allowing the student to get the CAS from the institution faster than they would a paper visa letter.

When considering a sponsor licence application, we ask three main questions:

Are you a bona fide education provider operating lawfully in the United Kingdom?

Are you a trustworthy provider? We look at the history and background of your organisation, your key personnel and the people who control the organisation. Any history of dishonest conduct or immigration crime is viewed seriously and may mean we refuse your application.

Are you capable of carrying out your duties as a sponsor?  For example by looking at the robustness of your organisation's processes and student record-keeping practices. If we have significant doubts we may award a B rating or, in more serious cases, refuse your application.

A and B ratings

Licences are issued with either an A or B rating. An A-rated sponsor will have all the necessary systems in place to meet their sponsor duties. B –rated sponsors may have employed or enrolled previous migrants who have abused their visa conditions or a visiting officer might have found weaknesses in the systems the sponsor has put in place to meet their sponsor duties.

A B-rating is regarded as a transitional rating – we expect sponsors to improve their performance enough to be upgraded to an A-rating within an agreed timescale. Action plans are created jointly with the UK Border Agency which outline the steps that must be taken and within a set time. If sponsors do not comply with this then they risk having their licence withdrawn.

Sponsor Duties

Tier 4 Sponsors are required to:

  • Keep a copy of all its non-EU students’ passports showing evidence of their entitlement to study;

  • Keep each student’s contact details and update them as necessary;

  • Report to UKBA any students who fail to enrol on their course;

  • Report to UKBA any unauthorised student absences as detailed below;

  • Report to UKBA any students who discontinue their studies(including any deferrals of study);

  • Report to UKBA any significant changes in students’ circumstances, (eg. if the duration of a course of study shortens);

  • Maintain any appropriate accreditation

  • Offer courses to international students which comply with UKBA conditions

  • Comply with applicable PBS rules and the law; and

  • Co-operate with the UK Border Agency.

Reporting any failure to enrol on a course, non-attendance and discontinuation of a course will only become mandatory once the IT system (the Sponsor Management System) is trialled in Autumn 2009, although sponsors can provide these details voluntarily prior to this date. 

From Autumn 2009 you will need to tell us if any student:

  • fails to enrol with you no later than 10 working days after the end of the enrolment period;

  • misses 10 expected contacts. For students in schools, further education and English language colleges, this will normally be where the student has missed two weeks of a course.;

  • stops attending an institution, either because the institution has withdrawn them from the course or the student has stopped attending because they are leaving, within 10 working days of this being confirmed;

  • defers their studies after their arrival in the United Kingdom. The student’s permission to be in the United Kingdom will no longer be valid as they will not be actively studying, and you must notify us of the deferral and advise the student to leave the United Kingdom. When the student is ready to continue their studies they will need to make a new visa application.

So far more than 2,100 universities, colleges and independent schools have applied for a Tier 4 licence. Each institution has been assessed or visited by UK Border Agency officers as part of the application process. Around 460 applications have been rejected for a variety of reasons.

Foreign students play a huge part in the UK’s cultural and economic wealth and they help make the UK’s education sector one of the finest in the world. Last year tuition fees from international students totalled £2.5 billion – the Tier 4 rules ensure that institutions who benefit from having international students take responsibility for ensuring that those coming from outside Europe comply with their visa conditions to be in the UK.

Jeremy Oppenheim, Regional Director and Policy Lead for the points-based system

Q&A - Understanding the new system

Q. When does a sponsor need to register in order to sponsor a student?

The Sponsor Register has been open to education providers since July last year. Those who wished to recruit students for courses from the launch of Tier 4 on 31 March 2009, needed to apply no later than 2 February 2009. Applications are continuing to be processed and providers should ensure that they apply in good time before their next student intake. Applications typically take 6-7 weeks to be processed.

Q. What are the costs?

The following charges apply:

  • The fee for a Sponsor’s Licence (Tier 4 only) is £400

  • Applications for student visas made outside the UK are currently £145 and extension applications made inside the UK are currently £357 (postal) or £565 at a Public Enquiry Office.

  • When the CAS is introduced with the Sponsor Management System, each CAS will cost the sponsor £10

Q. What action will UK Border Agency staff take, once informed of a student who is not following the rules?

Should significant numbers of students drop out or fail to enrol with a particular education provider, this will raise concerns about the sponsor’s recruitment processes and their overall suitability as a licence holder.

The UK Border Agency will investigate, and if it transpires it was due to poor administration, or deception on the part of the students, we will consider downgrading the Sponsor to a B-rating and will put in place an action plan to mitigate further abuse. If it appears the sponsor has been complicit in this abuse, we will suspend their licence immediately with a view to revoking it if our investigation reveals satisfactory evidence of abuse.

Enforcement and removal action will be taken against any students found in breach of their conditions.

Q. What are the restrictions on employment?

Students may work part-time (up to 20 hours) during term time and full time during vacations. They do not have to seek approval from the UK Border Agency for such temporary employment. Students may also undertake course-related work placements as part of their course, providing the work component comprises no more than 50% of their total course time in the UK.

Q. Why has a standard as high as NQF level 3 been set for General Students?

The UK Border Agency has worked closely with representatives from both the private and public education sector to ensure that Tier 4 is pitched at the correct level. We believe it is right to expect those coming to the UK as adults to study to have already completed their basic education and continue their further education in the UK. FE Colleges which have the appropriate child-safeguarding measures in place can continue to recruit 16 and 17 year olds on to courses below NQF level 3 provided the student seeks entry as a Child student.

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