Home Office launches premium
service for sponsors of students

The Home Office has introduced a new premium customer service for educational institutions sponsoring students on study visas in the UK.

The premium service is designed to offer sponsors an enhanced level of support in sponsoring international students, and will provide institutions with tailored advice and support in managing their sponsor licence and student immigration needs.

The service is available at a cost of £8,000 for a 12 month period, and includes the fee for your next Basic Compliance Assessment (BCA), which sponsors of students must apply for and pass every 12 months in order to retain their sponsor licence.

The new service is similar to the premium customer service scheme which has been available for sponsors of migrant workers for several years, at a significantly higher cost of £25,000 per year for large organisations.

What does the new premium service offer?

Sponsors of students who successfully apply for the premium service will benefit from:

  • An account manager and regional account manager – You will be allocated an account manager who you will be able to contact via telephone and email. Your account manager will be your first point of contact for any enquiries relating to your licence or student immigration issues. A regional account manager will also be available to support with more complex enquiries.
  • Access to premium customer events – Premium customers will be able to talk directly with senior members of the Home Office customer service team through annual premium customer events and regular meetings with your account manager.
  • Fast-track access to student immigration history – With the consent of the student, the Home Office will provide sponsors with information about specific students’ immigration history, with requests carried out within three working days. Non-premium customers would need to submit a subject access request to obtain this information, costing £10 and taking 40 days to complete.
  • Priority handling of changes to your licence – Premium sponsors will receive priority treatment on requests to make changes to their student sponsor licence, with requests usually carried out within ten working days. BCA applications are not included, which can take up to 18 weeks to process.
  • Monthly reports on CAS allocation – You will receive management information reports detailing the Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) certificates you have use in the previous three months. This will help you to determine where your CAS outcomes place you in relation to the BCA criteria.

Despite the above priority services, being a premium customer does not mean the Home Office will not be able to consider any applications outside of the immigration rules. Similarly, they will not be able to fast-track the decision making process for applications, but can provide updates on the progress of applications with permission from the applicant.

How to apply for the premium service

Any licensed sponsor with student sponsor status is eligible to apply for the premium service, as long as they have no outstanding compliance actions against them.

You can apply for the premium customer service via the Sponsor Management System (SMS), and you will not be required to send any supporting documents. The Home Office aims to consider all applications within ten working days. For more information on the service, you can contact the team by email.

Is it worth it?

The new service is the latest in a series of paid-for, ‘premium’ customer service options offered by the Home Office to the select few sponsors who are willing to pay the fees.

Critics have suggested that this additional service offering is simply another income stream for the Home Office, despite the substantial visa fees already charged to students, workers and employers under the UK Immigration Rules.

Rather than promoting an enhanced level of customer service to selected ‘premium sponsors’, the Home Office could improve the visa application and sponsorship processes for all customers if they focused instead on elevating their overall service offering and significantly reduced standard application processing times.

Despite student sponsors benefiting from a significantly lower cost of £8,000 per year compared to the £25,000 charged to large sponsors of migrant employees, institutions should consider their options carefully before signing up to the premium service.

If you think you will benefit from the additional services offered to premium sponsors and will use these enough to justify the cost, it may well be worth signing up. However, if you require support on a case-by-case basis or are not sure how often you will require this enhanced level of support from the Home Office, it may be worth seeking the advice of a qualified, independent immigration advisor before committing.

Speak to an immigration consultant

If you don’t wish to sign up for the Home Office premium service but still want advice and support on immigration matters for international students or skilled workers, Smith Stone Walters is here to help.

Our team of immigration experts can provide up to date, practical guidance for sponsors and applicants, and will work with you every step of the way to ensure you remain compliant. For an informal discussion about your needs, please contact us today.

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