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UK ditches highly trusted visa sponsors

Measures by the Home Office to overhaul the way universities can become licensed sponsors of Tier 4 visas, replacing highly trusted sponsor appraisals with a basic compliance assessment, are to come into effect this autumn.

From October 2015, a higher education institution will no longer be able to refer to itself as a highly trusted sponsor and will have to use the title ‘tier 4 sponsor’ instead.

Licensed sponsors can approve visa applications of prospective students and employees to be forwarded to the Home Office. University marketing departments have, in the past, made much use of the highly trusted title in advertisements.

In the changes, some conditions of the license agreement have been made much more stringent: an institution which has its licence revoked will be unable to re-apply within two years, when previously it would have had to wait only six months. In addition, sanctions may be applied to institutions which have not themselves breached the licence, but which have taken on relevant staff from institutions that have had their licence revoked. The changes are active from 6 April.

The sponsor assessment itself is relatively unchanged: in order to pass, an institution will need fewer than 10 per cent of applications forwarded to UK Visas and Immigration to have been refused, an enrolment rate of at least 90 per cent and a course completion rate of at least 85 per cent.

UK Visas and Immigration will continue its practice of unscheduled visits to licence holders. In 2014, a survey of more than 170 licence holders was carried out by Research Fortnight’s sister publication HE. Of the 147 respondents, 28 reported never having been visited by the agency or its predecessor, the UK Border Agency. They included the University of Birmingham, the University of Kent and the University of Reading.