The quality of the decisions made by the UK Border Agency for Tier 4 applications was good, but improvements were needed in the way the Agency licensed and managed Tier 4 sponsors. This was among his findings following an inspection by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration into the quality and consistency of decision-making for Tier 4 applications and the management and licensing of Tier 4 sponsors.
Tier 4 of the Points Based System was introduced in 2008 to strengthen controls over the migration of students from outside the European Economic Area to the UK. A Tier 4 visa can be issued overseas for new entrants into the UK or existing migrant students can apply for an extension to their leave while in the UK. The inspection covered two overseas posts, Beijing and New Delhi, as well as the Temporary Migration Unit based in Sheffield.
The Chief Inspector found a number of examples of good practice and effectiveness, including:
- Overall decision-quality on Tier 4 applications was good, and requests for sponsorship licenses were carefully considered before being granted;
- Beijing consistently met its performance targets and, following significant improvements, so was New Delhi;
- Verification of documents was being carried out effectively in all locations, and standardised refusal templates were also in use;
- A robust process was in place for assessing sponsor applications for Highly Trusted Status; and
- The Agency had commissioned a project to examine the whole appeals process, in order to improve service delivery in general.
However, the Chief Inspector was concerned to find:
- A lack of published performance standards for sponsorship applications, resulted in some taking over six months to process;
- There were no targets in place to manage notifications to the Agency from sponsors that students were, for example, not attending courses. At the time of inspection, a backlog of almost 153,000 such notifications had accumulated; and
- Despite significant improvements being made to the structure and management of the work carried out by Compliance Officers, their lack of any powers to arrest meant they could take little or no action if they encountered someone who was in breach of immigration laws.
John Vine CBE QPM, Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, said:
“While the findings of this report are generally positive, yet again I have to highlight the Agency’s failure to implement recommendations made in previous reports. The need to improve customer service and consistency of approach on an agency-wide basis, and the lack of a published target for deciding sponsor applications or responding to sponsor notifications were examples of this.
“I was, however, pleased to note that in May 2012 the Agency had reviewed outstanding sponsor notifications and launched an operation to identify and remove people, including students, who had overstayed beyond the term of their visa. This should be an ongoing priority rather than the subject of a one-off operation by the Agency.
“I have made six recommendations to the Agency to address the issues I found.”
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