1 Implementation of Tier 4 of the
Points Based System |
1.The Home Office has responsibility for regulating
migration into the UK and protecting the border, which it discharges
through the UK Border Agency (the Agency). In 2008, the Home Office
introduced the Points Based System to manage economic migration
from outside the European Economic Area, which was implemented
by the Agency. The Points Based System was devised with a number
of tiers to allow for different types of work and study-related
migration. This report covers Tier 4, the student route, which
the Agency implemented in March 2009. Tiers 1, 2 and 5, the work
routes were covered by our report in May 2011.
2. We heard that the student visa system that existed
before Tier 4 did not provide sufficient control over those using
the route. In particular, students could attend any of 15,000
education institutions on the then Department for Innovation,
Universities and Skills register and could change education provider
without informing the Agency.
However, the Agency implemented Tier 4 and removed the previous
controls before the new controls were fully in place. The Agency
told us that it had decided on a phased approach to introducing
Tier 4 at the request of the education sector.
However, it did not take a similarly phased approach to removing
the controls that existed under the previous system.
3. A key control under the previous system was the
ability of entry clearance officers to assess the intentions of
applicants on paper and, in some 12% of cases, by interview.
The Agency removed this control in March 2009 when it implemented
Tier 4. Under Tier 4, the system switched to sponsorship of students
by education institutions (sponsors) licensed by the Agency, with
sponsors determining the intentions of applicants.
However, in March 2009, the Agency did not have a secure system
in place for ensuring that applicants were sponsored; it relied
instead on visa letters, which were easily forged. The Agency
did not make the secure electronic system mandatory until February
2010. By March 2009, the Agency had only visited 30% of the sponsors
it had licensed, visiting the remainder by summer 2009.
4. Partly due to the lack of controls, Tier 4 initially
saw high levels of abuse. As a result, the Agency has had to make
successive changes to tighten up controls over sponsors and migrants
using the student visa route. Sponsors and students have found
it hard to keep up to date with the changes to the rules and guidance,
particularly when sponsors have to communicate the changes to
a network of agents overseas.
The guidance and rules have become overly complex and in some
The Agency is now setting up a new directorate to ensure that
operational guidance makes sense and it has recently produced
a 'plain English' version of the guidance for sponsors. However,
the sponsor guidance still consists of over 60 pages and sponsors
still have to read the immigration rules and student guidance
in addition to the sponsor guidance.
5. Sponsors and students need support from the Agency
to help them to navigate the complex rules and guidance. However,
we heard that customer helplines did not provide the advice that
sponsors and students need. We also heard that highly trusted
sponsors no longer have a named contact, even though this was
promised as part of the original highly trusted sponsor scheme.
 Almost a third
of respondents to the National Audit Office's sponsor consultation
said that the Agency had provided none of the support the sponsor
needed to implement the latest changes to Tier 4 and only 15%
of respondents said they received all the support they needed.
We were provided with examples of genuine students where the Agency's
lack of flexibility and mistakes have led to real problems for
students and their sponsors, in some cases forcing students to
return home to reapply for visas.
6. We heard from sponsors that the timing of changes
to the rules were not compatible with the academic year. For example,
in 2011 changes in the requirements for English proficiency and
academic progression were introduced after universities had already
made their offers; as a result, universities had to review all
offers manually to see whether they met the new criteria. After
universities complained about the timing, the same problem was
created by the Agency in 2012 with the move to a five year limit
on the length of time that students can remain in the UK under
Tier 4; again, universities have to review existing offers to
check whether they meet the criteria.
7. The Agency consulted well with education providers
about the initial introduction of Tier 4, but we heard that consultation
about many of the subsequent changes to the route had been patchier.
Sponsors also said that the Agency has paid little or no attention
to concerns raised by the education sector in response to consultations.
For example, the London School of Economics told us that detailed
advice on why the original highly trusted sponsor scheme would
not work was ignored.
2 C&AG's Report, paras 1-2; Committee of Public
Accounts, 34th report of 2010-12, Immigration: the
Points based System-Work Routes, HC 913 Back
Q 84 Back
Qq 79-81, 83 Back
Qq 64, 69 Back
Qq 87-89, 95 Back
Qq 64, 69, 84, 90 Back
Qq 81, 85; C&AG's Report, paras 1.12, 1.15 Back
Qq 14, 86, 193-204 Back
Qq 26, 52-60 Back
Qq110-115, 119; Ev 36 Back
Qq 27, 29, 33-34, 44-45, 110, 115, 117 Back
C&AG's Report, figure 15 Back
Ev 35 Back
Qq 13, 14 Back
Qq 19, 24, 111 Back