Penningtons Manches has again seen an increase in compliance visits from UKVI to independent schools. We understand that the majority of these visits have resulted in compliance action being taken by UKVI.
Many independent schools are minor users of Tier 4 which only sponsor a small number of international students and therefore may not be as familiar as others are with all their sponsor obligations.
UKVI action, which may end up being a lengthy process, could lead to schools not only having to turn new students away, but also facing large financial losses and reputational damage both in the UK and in external markets.
The area which continues to result in the most compliance action against independent schools is failure to comply with reporting and notification obligations. Below we set out some of the areas where UKVI has taken action this year:
Schools need to renew their BCA every 12 months. This is a separate date from the annual CAS renewal and the Tier 4 licence renewal (which is renewed every four years).
Following an inspection either by Ofsted or ISI, schools that have failed to maintain the required rating must notify UKVI within 20 working days of receiving their inspection report. Previously it was the responsibility of the relevant education body to notify UKVI.
The UKVI puts the onus on the school to ensure that it notifies the UKVI via the SMS about certain events in relation to Tier 4 students. These include but are not limited to:
This is the area where we have provided the most advice this year.
Schools which recruit a child under the age of 18 must ensure suitable care arrangements are in place for them in the UK. This must include arrangements for their:
In addition, all arrangements for a child’s care and accommodation in the UK must comply with the relevant UK legislation and regulations.
If a Tier 4 (Child) student is to be looked after in a private foster care setting, the school must give the local authority responsible for the area in which the child will live the following details:
This information must be provided as soon as the school becomes aware that the child has arrived in the UK or, if the private care arrangement begins when the child is already here, as soon as it becomes aware of the change.
Schools should take extra care where children move from being looked after by a parent or close family relative to being looked after by a private foster carer. Notification must be made to the local authority and to UKVI.
If the Tier 4 (Child) student is 16 or 17 years old and will be living independently, the school must submit a letter from the Tier 4 (Child) student’s parent or legal guardian confirming they consent to their child living independently in the UK.
If the Tier 4 (Child) student will be living with a resident British citizen, or other UK resident who is a close relative, or in a private foster care arrangement, the school will be required to submit evidence and details of the new care arrangements to UKVI.
As the welfare of children is paramount, failure to make the relevant notifications could lead to the immediate revocation of the Tier 4 licence.
These are just some of the issues we have observed while advising independent schools. For a full list of sponsor duties and reporting obligations, schools should familiarise themselves with the Tier 4 sponsor guidance and make sure that they keep themselves updated. We are aware that the guidance is often not easy to navigate and that schools have additional requirements and duties in relation to the welfare of children. These duties should however be considered alongside the duties imposed by UKVI.
Where a school has concerns about compliance or, for example, notices that the annual CAS renewal is taking longer than necessary, visa applications are being held up by UKVI or a compliance visit has resulted in the CAS allocation being reduced to zero, advice should be sought early to avoid further action being taken by UKVI. February/March is usually a key time for UKVI to carry out compliance visits. Where these result in action being taken, the issues may not be resolved for a number of months. By the time the UKVI concludes its investigations, the September recruitment period may have been impacted and parents may have chosen other schools for their children.
For further information, please contact Pat Saini.