This column has previously considered the UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) new points-based immigration system and its potential impact on educational institutions. Before the introduction of the points-based system (PBS) in March 2009, educational institutions would not have expected a visit from the UKBA unless a particular issue had been identified. Since the introduction of the PBS, the UKBA now employs compliance officers to visit educational institutions in order to check compliance with sponsorship duties.
On 21 July 2009, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee published its report on bogus colleges. The report highlighted a particular concern that the UKBA has given advance notice of inspection visits in up to 85 per cent of cases. The report recommended that the UKBA should ensure that sufficient resources are provided to allow for rigorous unannounced inspections.
Following this report, there will be an increased likelihood of educational institutions facing unannounced visits from the UKBA. This article reviews sponsoring institutions’ responsibilities under the PBS and considers what the UKBA inspections are likely to entail and how institutions will prepare for those inspections.
Under the PBS, there are a number of duties imposed on educational institutions that sponsor students from outside the European Economic Area (EEA). In particular, sponsors must:
• keep copies of all sponsored students’ passports, showing all personal details and leave stamps or immigration-status documents;
• keep up-to-date contact details for each student;
• report to the UKBA any student who fails to enrol on their course;
• report to the UKBA any unauthorised absences;
• report to the UKBA any student who discontinues their studies;
• report to the UKBA any student who has a significant change in circumstances, such as a change to their length of course;
• maintain any appropriate accreditation;
• offer courses to international students that comply with UKBA conditions; and
• comply with applicable rules of the points-based system and the law; and co-operate with the UKBA.
During a compliance visit, UKBA compliance officers can speak to migrant workers/students, colleagues, academic staff and managers. They have the right to inspect personnel files and any other records, such as recruitment and payroll details. They will carry out a detailed and thorough audit, which may include inquiries regarding the numbers of students at the institution, how many of them are sponsored non-EEA students, how non-EEA students are recruited and their details verified and how many certificates of sponsorship the institution intends issuing.
In response to the report, educational institutions will now be taking steps to ensure that they are prepared for any unannounced visit by the UKBA. This may include, for example:
• taking photocopies of students’ passports and immigration-status documents (and any ID cards) on the day of enrolment;
• using an electronic HR system that can record individuals’ immigration status and expiry dates of any leave to enter or remain;
• putting in place suitable procedures to ensure that students’ contact details are kept up to date, and that they are quickly available to the UKBA upon inspection; and
• putting in place systems to ensure that a designated person is notified of any circumstances that should then be reported to the UKBA.