UK Sponsorship licence for education providers

To accept foreign pupils and students for studies, all British education providers must be registered as sponsors. Teaching pupils or students from other countries means they can build their international profile and generate more income. However, not every school or university can obtain a sponsorship licence. The requirements for education providers are similar to those for future employers but there are also certain differences that we want to share with you here.

Why do schools and universities need sponsorship licence?

When an education provider gets a sponsorship licence, they become an intermediary between the UK government and foreign pupils and students. Educational sponsors guarantee high-quality education that meets all the standards, as well as comfortable and safe living conditions. At the same time, the UK government regulates the flow of foreign pupils and students through the sponsorship management system.

Study visa routes

An education provider can apply for a UK sponsorship licence for the following two visa routes:

  1. UK Child Student visa – for children between 4 and 17 years old;
  2. UK Student visa – for students who are 17 or older and have already completed their school education.

Please remember that on a UK Child Student visa, children can only attend independent schools.

Requirements for education providers applying for UK sponsorship licence

To obtain a UK sponsorship licence, an education provider needs to apply to the Home Office with the relevant documents. To fill in the application correctly and to collect all the required documents, it is recommended to contact immigration advisors. Their extensive experience will help you objectively assess your chances of getting a sponsorship licence. For your application to be approved by the Home Office, you must meet the following requirements:

  • You must provide education services in the UK legally in full accordance with British rules and regulations;
  • You must comply with eligibility requirements for sponsoring educators.

An education provider must keep their standards up including after obtaining the sponsorship licence to keep it.

How does home office decide whether sponsors are eligible?

The Home Office looks at several things:

  • The Home Office checks the history of the institution and the background of the key personnel and other staff members who are appointed to manage the sponsorship licence;
  • They check whether the education provider or any of its staff members have breached the UK immigration rules or criminal or any other law;
  • They consider carefully how the education process is organised, what quality of education is provided, how teachers communicate with pupils or students, and how attendance is controlled;
  • Finally, they may visit your institution to assess it on-site and talk to teachers and pupils or students in person.

If the Home Office officials have any doubts about your capability of being a sponsor, your application will be refused.

Inspection of education providers

When you apply to the Home Office for a sponsorship licence, you need to submit a whole package of documents (you can check the list of documents on the government website or consult an immigration advisor). They will be reviewed by the Home Office first. One of the most important documents is the confirmation that you have passed an Educational Oversight inspection by the relevant body. The inspection is regularly performed in all the British educational institutions but for a sponsorship licence, you may need an additional audit. For more details, it is better to check with the Home Office or contact immigration advisors.

An education provider must have all the relevant licences and permissions for the provision of educational services. All the staff members must prove that they can work in the area of education. Foreign employees must have a valid visa. You also need to pay close attention to the state of the building and classrooms. If you fail a fire-risk assessment, for example, you won’t get your sponsorship licence.

Tax inspections should also be taken seriously. To pass them, you need to do the following in a timely manner:

  • Submit tax reports;
  • Pay taxes;
  • Respond to requests from the HMRC.

If an education provider has several campuses, in their application, they will have to mention only those where foreign pupils or students will study. For the first year as a sponsor, you will have to report to the Home Office about all the issued certificates of sponsorship.

Sponsorship management system

The sponsorship management system for sponsoring educators is the same as the one for employers. An education provider must appoint the following personnel who will be responsible for managing the sponsorship system and issuing certificates of sponsorship:

  • An authorising officer, who will be responsible for coordinating the whole sponsorship management system and the use of the licence;
  • A key contact, who will communicate with the Home Office;
  • A level 1 user, the one managing the sponsorship licence, for example, issuing and withdrawing certificates of sponsorship;
  • Level 2 users, the ones having access to the management system with limited authority. Level 2 users are responsible for day-to-day activities, e.g. preparing applications for certificates of sponsorship.

You can hire some of the above personnel from the company that provides you with legal support to use their expertise. However, the authorising officer and at least one level 1 user must be your employees.

The key personnel must have no criminal or immigration offences. If they break any rule after the sponsorship licence is obtained, the Home Office can revoke the licence.

All the mentioned personnel who get directly involved in the UK sponsorship management system must be included in the licence application. If the key personnel changes, the Home Office must be notified about it. The records of all the foreign pupils or students accepted for studies must be kept carefully. If a pupil or a student stops attending classes, the education provider must inform the Home Office about it.

Steps for obtaining sponsorship licence

It is not difficult to become a sponsor provided that:

  • You fill in the application correctly and add all the relevant evidence, confirming that you provide educational services legally;
  • You appoint the key personnel;
  • You give the number of foreign pupils or students you are planning to teach in the first 12 months after getting the licence;
  • You define the sites where foreign pupils or students will study;
  • You pass all the necessary inspections by relevant bodies and by the Home Office.

Application processing and licence validity

The application for a sponsorship licence is processed within four weeks. If approved, your institution will be granted an identification number and included in the register of licensed sponsors. The period of validity of a sponsorship licence is four years, subject to extension. In order not to lose the right to teach foreign pupils or students, you must extend your licence before it expires.

The first sponsorship licence is granted to an educator with a probation period. The Home Office will carefully monitor your activity. The licence can be withdrawn if the educator fails to fulfil the sponsor’s responsibilities.

To prevent things from going wrong, you should get the support of experienced immigration advisors. Highly qualified experts from Imperial & Legal have extensive expertise in obtaining sponsorship licences and will provide consultations and support for you to get the licence in the quickest possible way.

FAQ about UK sponsorship licence for education provider

How does a basic compliance assessment affect a licence?

According to the current regulations, every educational institution that has a sponsorship licence must pass a basic compliance assessment by the Home Office every year. You apply and pay for the procedure yourself. A special commission assesses the quality of your work with foreign pupils or students. The assessment is based on two figures:

  • The percentage of pupils or students who were granted a certificate of sponsorship and then got a visa and those whose visa applications were refused. For you to pass the assessment, the percentage of refusals must be 10% or less;
  • The percentage of foreign pupils or students who graduated. It must be 85% or more.

If you fail to pass the assessment, the Home Office will withdraw your licence. You will then have 20 days to appeal against the Home Office’s decision.

Which foreign students are not considered in the assessment?

The Home Office does not count the following groups of students:

  • Those who switched to another visa category;
  • Those on a sabbatical leave who are currently outside the UK;
  • Those who have transferred to another educational institution.

If an educational institution has lost its sponsorship licence, what should foreign pupils or students do?

According to British law, a foreign pupil or student whose educational provider loses their licence has 60 days (or the time before their visa expires, whichever is earlier) to do one of the following:

  • Switch to another visa category;
  • Find another sponsor;
  • Leave the UK.

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