Last month, the Home Office published new immigration policy guidance for UK Education Providers with the intention of closing loopholes in the student visa system. The new rules have now been criticised by Tier 4 Education Sponsors and by the Independent Schools Council as being unclear and causing confusion over whether schools should consider mass passport checks of thousands of British pupils to prove that they are not illegal immigrants. Up to 650 leading independent schools have been affected by the guidance and have been warned that they could lose their sponsorship licence if they do not adhere to their new legal responsibilities.
New Home Office Guidance: Top Schools Forced to Consider Mass Passport Checks
Until last month, any school or college which acted as a UK Sponsor on visa applications for overseas students had a legal requirement to show that they had taken ‘reasonable steps’ to vouch for them. This was done by checking overseas student’s passports to see if they had permission to study in the UK.
However, last month the Home Office published guidance which has now changed the wording of the requirement to “every student” in schools which are licenced to act as sponsors. The guidance states:
“In addition to your duties as a Tier 4 Sponsor, you are expected to contribute to supporting immigration control. In particular, you must take reasonable steps to ensure that every student at your institution has permission to be in the UK. Failure to do this may lead to the revocation of your licence.”
Independent Schools Council Lobbying Home Office to Publish Clear Guidance
The Independent Schools Council (ICS) which represent over 1,200 independent schools in the UK and overseas, has been lobbying the Home Office to clarify the issues and hopes to have new guidance agreed in the next month. In the meantime, the ICS has written to its members explaining their new legal responsibilities and the failure to comply with their duties.
Chief Executive of the ISC, Matthew Burgess stated that he did not believe that the Home Office required schools to undertake mass passport checks but he understood if schools did so:
“The message we are trying to get out, possibly unsuccessfully, is that we are in active dialogue with the Home Office to work through this but at the end of the day it is their [schools] licence, it is their risk and if that is the approach they want to take I can completely understand that.”
Legal Advice for Tier 4 Education Providers
It is imperative that Tier 4 Sponsors comply with their sponsor duties as failure to do so will lead to the Home Office revoking your sponsorship licence, suspend your licence pending further investigation or reduce the number of CAS you are allowed to assign.
If the Home Office has issued you with any of the above penalties, contact us so that we can review your case and provide you with expert legal advice on how to proceed.