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All change in the education sector: what sponsors need to know about the new student route

Posted: 23/10/2020


At 9am on 5 October 2020 the new student route replaced Tier 4 of the points based system. The Home Office then published a series of new guidance documents including new sponsor guidance. However, no student policy guidance has been published to assist students applying under the route as yet. The information for students is instead contained on the gov.uk website.

In this update we summarise the main changes that sponsors need to be aware of as internal processes and systems will need to be reviewed and possibly amended.

Terminology

The introduction of the new system brings with it new terminology that sponsors will need to familiarise themselves with:

Old New
Tier 4 General Student
Tier 4 Child Child student
Leave to enter Permission to enter
Leave to remain Permission to remain
Attendance monitoring (HEPs) Academic engagement

New immigration rules

Sponsors trying to locate the relevant immigration rules relating to students will find that the Tier 4 rules have been deleted and replaced with new appendices, below we set these out with the relevant links for ease of reference. These rules have been drafted in a new format, in line with the simplification of the immigration rules project.

Old New
Part 6A: Tier 4 (General) Student Appendix ST
Part 6A: Tier 4 (Child) Student Appendix CS
Appendix A: Attributes Now part of Appendix ST / CS
Appendix B: English language Appendix English language
Appendix C: Maintenance (funds) Appendix Finance
Appendix H: Tier 4 documentary requirements Now part of Appendix ST / CS

Application timeline

The timeline for submitting an application overseas has been extended from three to six months before the start date of the course. Applications made in the UK can still only be submitted up to three months before the start date of the course.

NB: If applying in the UK, the start date of the course must not be more than 28 days after the expiry date of the applicant’s previous leave (a Covid concession is in place until 31 December 2020).

Submitting a valid student application

Sponsors should note that the validity requirements have changed. From 5 October, students who submit an application that is deemed to be invalid will have that application rejected as opposed to refused. Applications can be rejected as invalid for the following reasons:

  • applying on an incorrect form / route
  • failing to pay the correct official fees
  • failing to provide biometric data
  • failing to provide passport / travel document
  • applying without a valid CAS
  • switching from a category that is not permitted.
For those students who submit in-country this could mean that they find themselves without permission to stay, which will impact their ability to continue to study. Sponsors therefore will need to put provisions in place to make sure that they are aware when an existing student receives a rejection.
 
This change will mean that a rejection should not count towards the refusal rate in the Basic Compliance Assessment calculation.

Switching in-country

A welcome change is the relaxation of the switching provisions for those applying in-country. Sponsors now only need to make sure the student is not in the UK in any of the following categories as they are not permitted to switch in-country:

  • visitor
  • short-term student
  • with permission granted outside the immigration rules
  • parent of a child student (N/A to child student)
  • seasonal worker (N/A to child student)
  • domestic worker in a private household (N/A to child student).
Sponsors are reminded that students switching in-country will still need to meet all the other requirements of the route, eg academic progression.

The Covid-19 concession allowing visitors and short term students to switch from within the UK into the student/child student routes ended on 1 October. We have obtained confirmation from the Home Office policy team that those who were in the UK under other routes (eg Tier 4) including where they are currently in the UK under exceptional assurance can still benefit from the concession on switching from within the UK. This is provided they meet the other requirements.

English language

The English language requirement has been amended. Sponsors may need to make some changes to the way they assess the English language ability of their sponsored students as a result. Child students remain exempt from having to meet this requirement.

English language in a previous application
Students now only need to prove English language once. Therefore, those who have submitted evidence of their ability in a previous successful application (for any route) do not need to do so again, provided it was at the same level ie B2. 
 
Sponsors may find it difficult to apply this in practice as they will need to know the required English language level for other immigration routes. For example a student switching in-country from Tier 2 General (B2) would meet the requirement whereas if they are switching from spouse (A1/A2) they would not.
 
According to the Home Office guidance, where a student’s previous application showed a lower level of English language, the Home Office’s caseworker will contact the student giving them a month to provide evidence of the required level and in the meantime place their application on hold.

Higher Educations Providers (HEP) with a track record* – assessing English language
HEPs with a track record of compliance can continue to assess English language at B2 level but will now need to add a note on how that assessment was made.
 
The information required on the CAS note is:
  • brief details of the method(s) used to assess the student’s English language ability; and
  • that the required B2 level is met in all four components (reading, writing, listening and speaking) of the CEFR.
By way of reminder if your organisation is not a HEP with a track record you cannot carry out your own English language assessment, students will need to provide evidence eg a SELT, unless they are exempt.

Relying on GCSE / A level English
The ability of students to rely on six months in the UK as a Tier 4 child to prove English has been replaced. Instead sponsors will now need to request evidence that the student has passed GCSE/A-level/Scottish Highers in English (language or literature) to prove English language ability.

The qualification needs to have been awarded by the appropriate body, following education in a UK school undertaken while they were aged under 18. The Home Office policy team have confirmed to us that the course will need to have been studied at a School in the UK and studies commenced whilst under 18.

In support of their application the student will need to present the following as evidence and sponsors should ask for these as part of their pre-CAS assessment:
  • a certificate from the awarding body; or
  • an official transcript issued by the awarding body.
Majority English speaking list updated
This now includes Malta and Ireland eg a non-Irish national who obtained a degree qualification from an Irish university can rely on the qualification to meet the English language requirement.

*HEPs with a track record means a Higher Education Provider that has a four-year track record of immigration compliance and Educational Oversight and is recognised as register on the Register of students sponsors.

Finance

In a welcome change students and child students applying in-country and have been living in the UK with permission for 12 months or more on the date of application are now exempt from having to meet the financial requirement.

Sponsors who review a student’s financial ability - i.e. their ability to pay the course fees, can continue to do so as part of their credibility checks.

Academic engagement policy

The attendance monitoring requirement for HEPs has been replaced with a new academic engagement policy.
 
This policy removes the need to measure 10 expected contacts.  Instead, the focus must now be on checking that the student is “academically engaging” by actively and consistently following their course of study.
 
The change in the Home Office’s approach means that HEPs will now be able to apply a single academic engagement policy that covers all their students studying at degree level and above
 
Although the new academic engagement policy is effective from 5 October, the Home Office guidance confirms that "current attendance monitoring policies which meet the attendance monitoring policy requirements will also meet the requirements of the new academic engagement policy."
 

Requirement to be met by HEP**
Course below degree level (Band 1) Review attendance if it falls below 85% in any month and withdraw sponsorship if it falls below 70% in 3 consecutive months.
Degree level course (Band 2) Need to have a single academic engagement policy leaving it to sponsors to determine what constitutes academic engagement and the minimum level of participation required.
 
The policy needs to be clear on when non-engagement will lead to withdrawal of sponsorship.
Reporting HEPs are expected to withdraw sponsorship in the following circumstances (unless exceptions apply):
  • the student fails to re-engage with their studies within 60 days (30 days for distance learning – Covid concession) of the first contact from their sponsor regarding their lack of academic engagement
  • attendance falls below 70% in three consecutive months for a student in Band 1
  • a student defers their studies for more than 60 days.
Sponsors are expected to report withdrawal of sponsorship on the SMS within 10 workings days of the decision.


**Non-HEP sponsors must continue to apply the current attendance monitoring policy.

Educational oversight

Failing an educational oversight inspection will no longer lead to the sponsor being made a legacy sponsor instead the CAS allocation will be reduced to zero preventing sponsorship of new students.

Safeguarding duties

The sponsor guidance now includes a specific child safeguarding duty on those sponsoring children under the child student route. The intention, we understand, was to simply reflect what schools already have to comply with as part of their general safeguarding duties. In practice, this may not be the case as the duties appear to be much wider. The guidance now provides that sponsors must ensure that:

  • appropriate policies and procedures are in place to ensure the safety, wellbeing and protection from exploitation of the children which it sponsors
  • where a Child Student is living in the UK in accommodation that was not provided by the sponsor, their living arrangements meet the requirements of the route
  • sites at which children will be taught or accommodated meet all legally required standards for those purposes
  • all staff who come into contact with the children have a current enhanced Disclosure and Barring Check (England and Wales), Protecting Vulnerable Groups Scheme (Scotland) or Disclosure and Barring Check (Northern Ireland).

Child sponsors should urgently review their safeguarding policies to make sure that they comply with UKVI requirements. This may include having to revise guardianship contracts.

Other key changes

  • time limit – there is no longer a time limit on study at postgraduate degree level and above.
  • evidence used to obtain an offer - students on degree + level courses sponsored by a HEP with a track record no longer have to provide the academic references relied to obtain an offer with their visa application.
  • ATAS certificates – there is an exemption for EEA nationals + Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, USA. This benefits those who:
    • applied for their permission on or after 5 October 2020 or have been granted a visa after that date; or
    • are currently in the UK and change course to one that normally would require an ATAS.

Start up and W Appendix change

Due to Covid-19 the Home Office have exceptionally allowed for those on a Start-up visa to apply for a further extension of 12 months beyond the normal maximum 2 year period. The exceptional extension can be for those on their first or second year in the category.
 
This will need to be supported by the endorsing body many of whom are Higher Education Institutions. The endorsing body will, as with the usual extension application, need to have assessed the business and be satisfied that reasonable progress has been made, taking into consideration the impact the pandemic may have had on the businesses progress and future viability.
 
For further details on this change click here.


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