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UK rebrands ‘HTS’, moots rating most compliant sponsors

The term ‘Highly Trusted Sponsor’ will no longer be used to denote a UK education institution’s eligibility to sponsor Tier 4 visas from April 6, the Home Office has confirmed. And, according to a source close to The PIE News, the Home Office is considering bringing in a top-level rating for the most compliant providers later in the year.

“These terms better reflect the nature of the different types of sponsor status,” a Home Office official told The PIE News. Photo: dannyman.

“These terms better reflect the nature of the different types of sponsor status"

“There are plans to bring in special ratings for those sponsors that are considered to be the most compliant,” the source said, with the caveat that any changes in legislation currently under discussion are dependent on the outcome of the UK’s general election in May.

“There are plans to bring in special ratings for those sponsors that are considered to be the most compliant”

As of April, institutions that are licensed to recruit international students will be designated ‘Tier 4 sponsors’, and those currently designated ‘A-rated sponsors’ – the preliminary status before becoming HTS licenced – will be named ‘probationary sponsors’.

“These terms better reflect the nature of the different types of sponsor status,” a Home Office spokesperson told The PIE News.

However, as well as rebranding, from a legal perspective, the change in terminology will make it easier to further amend the rules surrounding Tier 4 sponsorship in future.

There is no clear indication of how the Home Office would determine which providers are most compliant if it were to go ahead with a new rating system, but our source, who asked not to be named, said “there was talk of” affording special status to institutions whose visa refusal rate stays under 5% as one possibility.

Using this as a benchmark could be problematic, however, as providers have already voiced concern over the decision to drop the number of visa refusals an institution can have to 10% last summer, saying the policy was a blunt instrument that may penalise institutions that fall foul of administrative errors or subjective decisions.

“To be honest I don’t think [the Home Office] really know how they envisage the criteria to be defined,” the source added.

Sponsor inspections may also be used to determine this status.

“Sadly, trust has long since left the student visa system”

All references to HTS status were removed from the Immigration Rules in a Statement of Changes issued at the end of February.

“This change does indeed better reflect the different types of sponsor status and the reality of the current relationship between the Home Office and the education sector,” commented Alex Proudfoot, Chief Executive of Study UK, which has called for a fundamental review of the student visa system in its recently published manifesto.

“Even the greatest aficionado of ironic language would fail to consider as ‘Highly Trusted’ institutions which are required to comply with over 200 pages of regularly changing policy guidance, descended upon without notice by teams of compliance auditors, and subjected to a blunt annual statistical assessment which can lead in short order to a catastrophic collapse in business,” he told The PIE News.

“Sadly, trust has long since left the student visa system.”

The Statement of Changes also puts in place a rebrand of the ‘student visitor visa’ to the ‘short-term student visa’ that was announced last year.

The rebrand is one of the key objectives of the Statement of Changes, it states, and will ensure “that the routes are conceptually clearer for those undertaking short courses”.

The Home Office will be issuing further guidance later this month that reflects the changes in terminology.

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