In the past year alone, 450 UK education providers have has their trusted sponsor licence revoked, impacting some 11,000 international students. There has been plenty of coverage in the media about immigration abuses and bogus colleges; what is being forgotten is the real victims – students.
Students are currently being let down by a poor immigration system that offers no protection, ties their permission to remain to their college’s actions and provides no safeguards against what can only be called scammers: those who are happy to take large payments of fees before declaring bankruptcy.
The requirements to be licenced by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to issue Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) documents include no academic or financial criteria. There is simply no scrutiny in the most important areas leaving students with few safeguards. Instead the UKBA busies itself with assessing human resource management systems, and any convictions, civil-penalties or non-compliance of either college or staff.
Sadly, the stories of students of colleges who’ve lost their licence are becoming frequent and follow a similar pattern. Pay substantial fees and enrol with a college only to be told that their leave to remain has been curtailed, they have to pay even more money and try to find another college who will accept them. In all likelihood they could have to begin their students again. Another visa application and fee. All in 60 days. Given the new visa application, students will have to meet the 3 months of bank statements requirement too – there is little wriggle room to plan and react when a student learns that their college’s licence has been revoked.
The JCWI and a group called Pupils’ Rights held a public meeting on 28 November, which we’ve summarised below and put a link to the original video.
- Under the old rules, education providers had to be listed on a register maintained by the Department of Immigration, not UKBA as it is today.
- Previously if your visa was refused on the grounds that your college was not bone fide, you could appeal the refusal and challenge the decision that your education provider was not legitimate.
- In 2006 the Points Based System (PBS) was introduced. In March 2009, Tier 4 went live and came into force for international students.
- Legal Challenges: In two cases – notably Pankina (2009) – the Court agreed that subjecting students to new rules in Home Office guidance documents – which could be changed at any time – instead of being entered into the Immigration Rules following Parliamentary scrutiny, was unlawful. Both cases succeeded at the Court of Appeal. The Home Office has however applied for and been granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. The PBS clearly has legal issues at its core and these will be decided by the highest UK Court. They could even be taken to Europe, clearly demonstrating the scope of the problems.
- A case was heard early November in the Court of Appeal, involving a college who was to have their sponsor licence revoked by the Home Office. The college’s legal team have been able to obtain an interim order stop this action and only allowing a decision on the college’s licence following the case.
- The college had believed to have done everything contained in the Sponsor Guidance Document and was in regular contact with the Home Office over licencing requirements. However, it was deemed they did not comply with something in the guidance and their licence was to be revoked.
- What is quite clear is that in this case, the withdrawal of the college’s licence had nothing to do with students or immigration. The college has been punished for administrative failures.
- There are definitely instances where bogus colleges have been closed using this method, but how many innocent parties have been caught up?
- The Court was asked to look at the most fundamental element of the PBS – the notion of sponsorship. Again, it is published Home Office guidance which sets out when an education provider’s sponsor licence can be revoked, not the Immigration Rules. What the Immigration Rules do say is that if a college loses its licence a student’s leave will be curtailed. The Immigration Rules also say that in order to apply under the student category, the college must have a Tier 4 sponsor licence. Therefore, having a sponsor licence is a condition that the students must meet for leave to remain / enter. How can this be lawful in light on the Pankina judgement?
- Colleges have no right of appeal if their licence is withdrawn. The only option they have is for an expensive Judicial Review.
- As with individuals, cases such as this are likely to go to Europe as the UKBA suddenly finds itself with powers to control businesses, institutions and their staff instead of just visa nationals, which should be their only concern.
Edward Nicholson, Barrister for No5 Chambers, talks about his experience and impressions on the rules affecting students and colleges who have their visa granting status revoked.