Many independent schools hold licences that allow them to sponsor visa applications by international workers and children from outside the EU who are coming to study, and some schools even hold licences that allow to them to sponsor charity workers to come to the UK for short term projects. The Immigration Rules that apply to each of these routes are very different and this can make compliance a particular issue for independent schools. Based on my experience the main concerns for schools include:
- Complying with obligations in relation to international students
For a school sponsoring students from outside the EU, a major concern is making sure it has retained the correct records but this is actually relatively straightforward provided the school has a comprehensive and robust process in place. We have assisted schools to produce policies and provide training to staff to ensure everyone is aware of their obligations.
In my experience a more common source of problems is complying with the lesser known requirements of the Home Office guidance. In particular, independent schools should only be sponsoring students for one course of study at a time, and this means that separate visas are needed when the student is attending the junior school and when they are at the stage of sitting exams. I have seen a number of cases where independent schools have failed to comply with this requirement of the guidance and could face enforcement action in the future.
2. Concern about visa refusals
In November 2014, the Home Office introduced a rule where schools could be subject to enforcement action if more than 10% of the visas they sponsored were refused. Enforcement action is only automatic if the school sponsors more than 50 students a year. However even where a school falls below this threshold they must have processes in place to monitor refusal rates and reasons.
If a school sponsors less than 50 visas per year, but has a 10% refusal rate the Home Office will carry out a discretionary assessment of their compliance systems, and providing evidence of staff training and robust procedures can help avoid enforcement action during this assessment.
3. Recruitment of foreign language assistants
In recent years I have seen a number of cases where independent schools have recruited foreign language assistants using Charity worker visas. However this is a high risk strategy and could lead to enforcement action being taken by the Home Office. Even though many independent schools hold charitable status, Charity worker visas are only available for roles which are not usually paid. If a school would normally pay a salary to a foreign language assistant then the Home Office view is that the role is not suitable for a Charity worker visa.
How we can help
Immigration issues will differ from school to school but our specialist team can provide audit and training services designed to fit every circumstance. For a fixed fee we will review your policies and procedures relating to international students and workers, review your historic compliance with Home Office obligations and recommend ways to make your systems more robust. Our service is designed to give schools the tools needed to deal with every day immigration issues internally and reduce concerns about compliance.
If you would like to discuss how we can help please get in touch.