Monthly Archives: January 2010

Tier 4 Sponsorship Management System Update

It was announced yesterday by the UK Border Agency that further enhancements to the Points Based System Sponsor Management System would be made. The next tier 4 changes are expected to be implemented on the 22nd February, to coincide with the launch of the Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies system.

The UKBA sponsorship management system is a brand new database system which allows licensed education and employer sponsors to bring people to the UK and manage their stay too. The UKBA reports that these new changes are the result of consultation with the sponsors themselves and based on feedback following the introduction of the points based system on 1st April 2009.

Tier 4 changes affecting tier 4 (general) student applicants:

Any education provider on the tier 4 register of sponsors will be able to provide minor updates about an applicant’s visa application to the UKBA. In other words, sponsors can update the details held on the applicant’s confirmation of acceptance for studies record. But, this must be done before the application is made.

Indian Tier 4 (General) Student Visa Applications Suspended

India accounts for more UK student visa applications than any other country worldwide and following a rise in applications of more than 650% on the same period in 2008, the UK Border Agency has temporarily suspended UK Tier 4 (General) Student Visa applications for the UK from Northern India, Nepal and Bangladesh.

Over October, November and December 2008 there were 1,800 student visa applications received from Northern India compared to 13,500 applications over the same period in 2009, from Northern India alone. British officials in the countries concerned have said that the system has been completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of applications and concerns run high that many applications may not be genuine. And this concern is not misplaced as offers of visa as a route to permanent settlement in the UK are not uncommon in the areas where the suspension is in place.

Sir Richard Stagg, British High Commissioner in Delhi, takes this issue very seriously and will not allow any abuse of the system to happen. He has promised tough action and while the backlog of applications is checked all new UK Tier 4 Student Visa applications will be placed on hold until at least the end of February.

The UK Border Agency released the following statement:

“The points-based system gives us the flexibility to act to maintain the integrity of the visa system, whilst processing legitimate applications fairly, thoroughly and as quickly as possible.

“We continually check and monitor all student applications and education providers to ensure that they meet the required standards.
“We will take tough action against those who attempt to abuse the system.”

The move to suspend UK Tier 4 Student visa applications has been mostly welcomed by the legal profession as combating illegal immigration; however, concerns have been raised about the impact on and inconvenience to genuine students. Many lawyers have raised concern that the suspension could lead to panic and with only the promise of a review at the end of February, the suspension could run indefinitely.

“The problem that we’re going to have is that the genuine students who want to come over for the universities they’re going to suffer as a result and they won’t be able to get here in time for their courses,” said one immigration lawyer.

More than 500,000 Indians visit the UK every year, among them tens of thousands of students.

Register of Tier 4 Sponsors – 29 January 2010

Differences against the Tier 4 Register 28 January 2010

The following schools and colleges were removed from the Register:

  • English Country Schools Ltd.
  • St Edmund’s School Canterbury

The following schools and colleges were added to the Register:

  • None

Download the Register of Sponsors Tier4: 29 Jan 2010

UK Plans Another Shake-up of Visa System

The British industry showed extraordinary dynamism and motivation last year when Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, announced in November that there was to be an unexpected review of the student visa system, with a number of new proposals put forward to prevent  bogus immigrants entering the country.

In fact, the proposals amounted to a full-scale assault on the international education sector and industry bodies were given just 10 days to respond to specific proposals set out by the UK Border Agency (UKBA). Hundreds of stakeholders lobbied MPs, signed a petition and returned submissions.

Among the proposals was a suggestion that the minimum level of study permissible on a student would be raised from NQF level 3 to level 4 – meaning all foundation and A-level preparation programmes would no longer be able to recruit non-European nationals who require a student visa.

Susan De-Jesus, City College Brighton’s International Welfare Advisor said, “if all of the questions raised in the review were implemented, we would simply have no international students. Many of our courses are preparing international students for university in the UK. How would these students no prepare for university in the UK?”

And James Pitman, Managing Director at Study Group for Higher Education in Europe commented, “this is the biggest attack on the international education sector ever. If full implementation [went ahead] then we would no longer be a viable company in the UK.”

More particularly posing a huge impact to the English language teaching sector was a suggestion that the current minimum requirement of English ability for student visa issuance – CEFR level A2 – be raised further.

Tony Millns, Chief Executive of English UK, wrote in an extensive submission, “given all other controls suggested, we see no reason to introduce such a restriction and note that no other major English-speaking destination country has such a policy. To introduce it would have disastrous consequences in public diplomacy terms because it would lead to the almost total exclusion of students from countries such as Saudi Arabia.”

Millns forecast that if all proposals were adopted, the cost could be over UK£2 billion in lost revenue. Other points concerned access to vocational courses; a differential approach for countries with high-risk status; work rights; and a limit on progression through the education system without returning students returning to their home country.

The other proposal causing real concern was the part-time work rights for non-EU students be revoked. This anti-competitive measure would put the UK at a disadvantage to Ireland and Australia, for example.

Janey Futerill, Principal of King Street College in London said that her school would be out of business within six months should this become law: “I would think it would be the same for any school in our price bracket serving the same student demographic…with many student nationalities that need to work to support themselves,” she said.

The review was ordered in a political climate of concern over negative immigration headlines, but industry bodies were keen to point out that the new Points Based System, which rolls out the IT-based sponsor management system in February, had not had enough time to be sufficiently fine-tuned. Millns acknowledged that the system wasn’t perfect and strongly advocated for an improvement in assessing financial eligibility, as well as a “trusted partner” scheme for education agents, to ensure no systematic abuse of the visa system in applicants’ home countries.

“We warned [that a rule requiring evidence of funds in the bank account for 28 days prior to application] constituted a loophole open to obvious abuse,” he wrote. “There could be much more reliance placed on the payment of course fees in advance, because that places the applicant at a greater degree of commitment and risk.” He also suggested an alternative option of paying fees into a central fund prior to application, which could be then transferred to a candidate’s institution upon successful visa issuance.

The Government is expected to make an announcement in early 2010.

Regulation with Intent

When a student studies abroad, I imagine their parents’ concerns revolve around social issues: will my child be happy; will their host family be nice to them; will they make friends? And perhaps academic issues enter their thoughts too: will they make good progress in their studies?

Of course, these two concerns are linked: a happy and settled student is more likely to succeed in their studies. More regulatory concerns such as: will my child receive an adequate refund if they have to cancel their course for an unavoidable reason; what happens if the education provider fails? are unlikely to enter their heads.

But for education agents, whose professional remit is to be concerned about such questions as well as the more obvious social and academic considerations, it pays to be clued up on varying refund rules and tuition assurance.

Australia is really trying very hard to provide a comprehensive umbrella of international student support visa its existing tuition assurance scheme, recent visa changes to support this scheme and ongoing regulatory efforts to improve the international student experience. The office in charge of the Esos Act review has called for  greater efforts to be made in terms of social cohesion of domestic and international students; better regulation of accommodation provision and a whole raft of other measures (such as a national body for dispute resolution), which will be officially presented to Government sometime this year.

Such macro-efforts to tighten up the nuts and bolts of an industry will translate, if adopted, into a more satisfactory outcome to the international student experience, even if these are not considerations at the forefront of the mind of a student or their parents when deciding where to study.

Meanwhile, the UK is making its own efforts to redefine the international education industry, but without the end consumer in mind; rather, with the electorate and the upcoming general election. Concerns over bogus immigrants continuing to enter the country, despite an overhaul of the visa system – which is still in the process of being rolled out – led the Government to announce a very hasty review of the system and outline specific proposals, all of which left the industry aghast.

One point that Australia and the UK seem to agree on is that a greater focus on agent integrity is a good thing and this seems likely to be a focus in 2010. A Government official in Australia is advocating agent certification, for the benefit of Australia-bound clients; while English UKK recommends introducing a trusted partner scheme, for the benefit of nervous visa officials.

Register of Tier 4 Sponsors – 28 January 2010

Differences against the Tier 4 Register 27 January 2010 The following schools and colleges were removed from the Register:

  • Arthur Mellows Village College
  • Barton Court Grammar School
  • Birkenhead High School
  • Cranleigh School
  • Impington Village college
  • King Edward VII School
  • Lyceum Academy
  • North Tyneside Council
  • Oxbridge College of IT & Management
  • Port Regis
  • Sherborne Preparatory School
  • Stoke Park School and Community Technology College
  • West Berkshire District Council

The following schools and colleges were added to the Register:

  • Badminton School
  • Bladon House School
  • Centre Academy
  • R290 International Group School of Excellence
  • Rookesbury Park School

Download the Register of Sponsors Tier4: 28 Jan 2010

Students Urged to Swot up on Vaccinations

Students heading back to university following their festive breaks have been urged to ensure their vaccinations are up to date as new research* reveals that more than nine out of ten (92%) 16-18 year olds do not think they are likely to catch mumps from other people their age. This is despite Health Protection Agency data showing that mumps is becoming increasingly common amongst this age group.

The survey, commissioned by the Department of Health shows that nearly a third (30%) of older teenagers have never asked family, friends or their GP for advice on immunisation and almost a quarter (23%) would choose not to be vaccinated due to a fear of needles. More than one in five (22%) admitted that they do not know if they have had the MMR vaccination, the most effective way to prevent mumps, as well as measles and rubella.

Cases of mumps have been on the rise, with 2886 confirmed cases of mumps in England and Wales reported between January and April 2009.**

The new research shows that more than half (55%) of young people are not aware that mumps can result in permanent deafness or viral meningitis (inflammation of the brain lining) or that it can lead to inflammation of the pancreas, ovaries and testicles.

Mumps can cause fever, headache, and painful, swollen glands in the face, neck and jaw but more than half (53%) of those surveyed were unaware of one of the most disconcerting symptom of mumps – swelling of the testicles. In around 25 per cent of cases in adult men, the testicles become infected (orchitis) causing swelling, pain, soreness and a high temperature.

Professor David Salisbury, Director of Immunisation at the Department of Health said:

“The research highlights that many young people are unaware just how serious mumps can be. A number of students currently at university will be among those who were not routinely offered the MMR vaccination in childhood or have only received one dose. Check with your GP to find out  if your vaccinations are up to date. It is never too late to have the MMR vaccine and protect yourself and others against mumps as well as measles and rubella.”

*Consumer Survey of 1,001 16-18 year olds conducted by Dubit, on behalf of the Department of Health, in June 2009
** Data from the Health Protection Agency, April 2009

Tier 4 Policy Guidance – Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies

Students applying under tier 4 for UK after 22nd February 2010 will no longer be issued with an original visa letter but with a virtual document in a further shakeup to the UK Border Agency’s tier 4 (general) student visa system.

Replacing the visa letter, the confirmation of acceptance for studies is a unique reference number which is assigned to a student by their school or college using the new sponsorship management system. Rather than present an original visa letter with their applications, under this new tier 4 rule students will have to submit their confirmation of acceptance for studies reference number, avoiding the expense of having documents sent secure mail across the world.

A student’s confirmation of acceptance for studies reference number will also contain information on how much of the tuition fees the student has paid to date and details of any qualifications seen by the school or college as part of the application, such as English level. Once a student’s confirmation of acceptance for studies number has been generated, it will be valid for 6 months, after which if no application has been made it will become invalid and a new number will have to be generated.

There will be a charge of £10 for each confirmation of acceptance for studies issued – charged by the UK Border Agency to schools and colleges – with the majority of students likely to have to cover this cost themselves. Only schools and colleges that appear on the UK Border Agency Tier 4 Register of Sponsors will have access to the sponsorship management system, and therefore issue a confirmation of acceptance for studies.

This new measure is part of many changes to the tier 4 system and has been implemented to eliminate the possibility of false visa letters as part of the UK Government’s clampdown on chip-shop colleges. There have also been a number of high profile bogus college arrests, some in recent months and this new system is a positive step in cleaning up the system.

Register of Tier 4 Sponsors – 27 January 2010

Download the Register of Sponsors Tier4: 27 Jan 2010

Update on Suspended Colleges From Tier 4

Following our earlier post, UKBA Removes Institutions from the Tier 4 Sponsor Register, we can now provide our readers with an update on suspended colleges from Tier 4, covering some of the issues raised by our readers.

It appears that the UK Border Agency has unilaterally launched an exercise of review with over 50 colleges from the list of sponsors, which includes both big organisations and small colleges. It is likely that groups of colleges will continued to be audited by UK in this way in the future. The widespread view is that they will possibly suspend and inspect all colleges on the list eventually.

Suspension from the Home Office register of sponsors has come as a big surprise to many colleges. In fact, some tier 4 sponsors have never been inspected by the UK Border Agency since their original approval inspections in 2008 prior to tier 4 being launched and many schools and colleges have not been informed of any breach of UK Border Agency sponsor regulations.

The majority of schools and colleges who have been suspended from the UK Register of Sponsors have nothing to fear and are in fact confident they will be able to answer any queries raised by the UK Border Agency. The majority of licensed sponsors of education take great pride in their work and processes, often having stringent approval and tracking procedures in place. Many genuine equation providers on the sponsorship register whom we’ve spoken to welcome the chance to explain these procedures to the UK Border Agency Inspectors once again.

One issue to come out of schools and colleges having their sponsor licence suspended by the UK Border Agency, is the apparent lottery surrounding timescales for re-inclusion. There are several colleges who have been quite fortuitous and have been given early inspection appointments, sometimes as soon as 1 week after suspension from the Register. However, there are many schools and colleges who have not been so fortunate and have had to wait 3 – 6 weeks for an inspection and subsequent re-inclusion on the sponsor register list.

Many Colleges have gone through this procedure in recent months, and have had their Licence fully restored after satisfying the UK Border Agency inspection team.  Pending the outcome of the UK Border Agency’s enquiries, schools and colleges will continue with all of their activities in the normal way.

There is a lot of speculation surrounding what to do if you’ve already received your visa but the college or school has been suspended by the UK Border Agency before the student has travelled to the UK. Under the UK Border Agency regulations, students should be permitted to travel to the UK and begin their studies. However, we have heard from several students who have been refused entry to the UK at their port of entry, which is highly inconvenient and controversial. We recommend caution when considering travelling to the UK whilst your school or college is still under investigation by the UK Border Agency.

Another source of attrition is what should happen to students who have their visa application pending and find their school or college has been removed from the Register of Sponsors. According to UK Border Agency regulations, these applications should be put on hold by consular officials pending the outcome of the UK Border Agency Inspection Team’s findings. However, in some cases this has not happened and scores of students have had their visa refused for applying to a school or college which is not on the sponsor register. We hope that Entry Clearance Officers worldwide will be sufficiently briefed and re-trained to prevent this from happening in the future, although the author will not hold his breath!

If you have already applied and paid for your course and are awaiting your visa letter or Confirmation of Studies (from 22nd February) and your school or college is suspended by the UK Border Agency, you will have to wait until they are re-included before your school or college will provide you with the documents required for your visa application. Therefore please do not worry if you are in this situation – I suggest you remain in regular contact with your school or college to stay abreast of any change in circumstances and hopeful re-inclusion on the sponsor register.

The reason for this sudden spurt of activity from the UK Border Agency in this area is quite simple; the UK’s new immigration system and new Immigration Agency. The catalyst for many suspensions is the UK Press, frequently running ‘scare’ stories of ‘high numbers of bogus student and terrorists getting into the UK on student visas’ and the up-coming General Election, as the political party’s campaigns start.

If you are due to apply for a course of study in the UK then you should inspect more scrutiny from your school, college or education agent. You may find that your motive for studying in the UK may be more closely questioned and your documentation will certainly be more tightly scrutinised. Please don’t be frustrated by these checks and work with your education provider and/or agent to the best of your ability. And remember, if you are a genuine student coming to the UK then you should have nothing to fear.

Update on Suspended Colleges From Tier 4