In this the fourth post of our series on schools and colleges removed from the Tier 4 Sponsors Register, we’ll be looking at how the UK Border Agency suspends an education provider from the Register of Sponsors and what punitive action they can take against sponsors.
What happens when a Sponsor Licence is suspended?
Whenever the UK Border Agency has any suspicion that a licensed sponsor has breached the rules and poses a serious threat to UK border control, they will suspend a sponsor’s licence pending a full investigation. One reason for investigation maybe a school or college who has allowed a student to enrol on a course without satisfying the entry requirements; for example, if the student’s English level is below the required level but the education provider sponsors them anyway.
Following notification from the UK Border Agency, any education provider under suspension will be removed from the Sponsors Register. This stops the school or college from sponsoring any new student migrants. No visa letters or confirmation of acceptance for studies reference numbers will be allowed to be issued. If an education provider assigns a confirmation of acceptance for studies or provides a student with a visa letter during their suspension, the UK Border Agency will take further action and the migrant’s application will be refused. Any institution under suspension is still obligated to carry out their duties as a sponsor for current students already in the UK. If the suspension is lifted, the school or college will be re-instated on the Tier 4 Register of Sponsors and will be allowed to sponsor migrant students again. The UK Border Agency may well only allow re-inclusion on the Register with a transitional B rating, with sponsors having a maximum of 12 months to achieve an A rating or be have their sponsor licence permanently removed.
If an institution is suspended, the suspension will apply to all Tiers that apply. For example, some schools and colleges are also registered to sponsor highly skilled workers (Tier 2) as well as students (Tier 4). If they are suspended from Tier 4, the suspension will also apply to Tier 2 and vice-versa.
Any students who are already in the UK and studying with an institution that get suspended will not be affected unless their education provider has their sponsor licence permanently withdrawn. However, the UK Border Agency will not consider any pending applications to enter the UK or to extend permission to stay in the UK until the suspension is resolved.
Any students granted a visa for the UK and their education provider’s sponsor licence has been suspended before they travel, are advised to remain in their home country until the suspension is resolved.
How does the UK Border Agency decide to take action?
The UK Border Agency will make a full assessment of the available facts when deciding what action to take against a sponsor who is suspected of breaking the rules. Unless of course the breach of the rules is so severe that immediate and permanent withdrawal of the sponsor’s licence is the only remedy.
It should also be noted that there is no one size fits all approach to the circumstances that affect the UK Border Agency’s decision to suspend or withdraw a licence, downgrade a sponsor or even take no action at all. As a general rule of thumb, the following factors will be taken into account when the UK Border Agency decides the fate of a sponsor:
- Seriousness: How much harm has been caused by the sponsor’s breach? If the sponsor’s actions or in-actions lead to students going AWOL, the UK Border Agency will take a very dim view indeed.
- Sustained breaches of the rules: Is the education provider’s breach a one-off, part of a pattern of failings or a consistent and sustained record of non-compliance with their obligations as a sponsor under the Points Based System?
- Action taken: Has the sponsor taken any action to minimise the impact of their breach of the rules? For example, the UK Border Agency is likely to look more favourably on sponsors who have regularly and promptly update them about any students who fail to attend classes. Sometimes it is individual members of staff who have caused problems for the sponsor and any action taken against them will be considered by the UK Border Agency. For example, if an employee was responsible for the breach of the rules and they were later dismissed, the UK Border Agency would factor this into their response. But, if the UK Border Agency finds evidence of coercion of staff or a deliberate plan to ignore their actions, severe punitive action will be taken.
- Civil penalties: Any penalties that have been issued to a sponsor or member of staff will also be considered. Civil penalties could lead to a downgrading of a sponsor or even permanent withdrawal of their licence. If the penalty is withdrawn or cancelled on appeal, then it will not be considered.
What process does the UK Border Agency follow when suspending sponsors?
Following an on-site inspection, the UK Border Agency’s Sponsor Licensing Unit will listen to the recommendations of the visiting officer and write to a sponsor detailing any action they are going to take – such as withdrawing the licence or downgrading the sponsor – and the reasons why.
Following first written notification from the UK Border Agency, sponsors will have 28 days to respond in writing to the allegations. This allows education providers the opportunity to submit any evidence or details of mitigating circumstances. The UK Border Agency does not allow oral hearings so any case that an education provider wishes to make must be done in writing.
The Sponsor Licensing Unit will correspond with schools and colleges regarding their submissions and will provide a response to the sponsor within 14 days. The UK Border Agency does have the right to extend this timeframe – they will notify sponsors of this – if the case is particularly complicated or further advice needs to be sought, before making their final decision.
If a sponsor chooses to ignore notification from the UK Border Agency and doesn’t reply within 28 days, the Sponsor Licensing Unit will carry out the recommendations of the visiting officer, without consulting the sponsor. Any school or college in this position will be contacted in writing to explain what action will be taken.
If a Tier 4 sponsor is downgraded or has their licence withdrawn permanently, this will apply from the date the UK Border Agency write to the education provider. This does therefore allow schools and colleges room to still sponsor migrants during the above timeframes by issuing visa letters of confirmation of acceptance for studies reference numbers, however, the UK Border Agency will not decide any applications to enter or extent stay in the UK until the suspension is resolved.