Lessons for employers from London Metropolitan University

by Laurie Anstis on August 30, 2012

London Metropolitan University has today lost its licence to sponsor overseas students. The UK Border Agency’s press release is here, and the university’s is here.

Registration as a sponsor is essential if the university is to take students from outside the European Union, and the consequences for the university and its 2,700 overseas students are very serious. In the absence of a rescue deal, new overseas students cannot start their courses, and existing students have 60 days to find an alternative institution to continue their studies. The university will, of course, lose out on the fees that those overseas students would have paid.

What are the lessons of this for employers?

According to this report in the Guardian:

“UKBA audits of London Met found that more than a quarter of cases sampled had no leave to remain in Britain. There was also no proof that “a significant proportion” of international students had satisfactory English. In more than half of cases, the university did not know whether students were turning up to lectures or not.”

It seems that the university was not complying with the Tier 4 sponsorship duties (Tier 4 is the section of the points-based immigration system for students),  which include reporting to the UKBA if a sponsored student misses 10 “expected contacts” without permission.

Most major UK employers will be registered to sponsor migrant workers under Tier 2 of the points-based system. Tier 2 is the replacement of the traditional work permit scheme, and is the mainstream route for employers to employ staff from outside Europe. Tier 2 sponsor duties are set out here and include:

“You must report the following information or events about sponsored migrants to [the UKBA] within the time limit given:

(1) If they do not turn up for their first day at work, you must report this within 10 working days. You must include the reason the migrant gives for non-attendance (for example, a missed flight).

(2) If they are absent from work for more than 10 working days, without your reasonably granted permission, you must tell us within 10 working days of the 10th day of absence. 

(3) If their contract of employment or registration ends (including if they resign or are dismissed), you must tell us within 10 working days of the event in question, and give us the name and address of any new employer that they have joined if you know it.

(4) If you stop sponsoring them for any other reason (for example, if they move into a immigration category with a different sponsor or one that that does not need a sponsor, their permission to stay in the United Kingdom ends, or if the migrant takes a period of unpaid leave which is not covered by … exceptions) … you must tell us within 10 working days.

(5) If there are any significant changes in their circumstances – for example, a change of job (but not a change of job title), a change of salary (but not an annual pay rise or a bonus), or a change of work location, you must tell us within 10 working days.

(6) If you have any information which suggests that they are breaching the conditions of their leave, you must tell us within 10 working days.

(7) You must notify us of any changes to your details, for example if you want to change your key contact or authorising officer, or if you change your address.  We may ask for more details and we may ask for documentary evidence to support the change you are requesting.

(8) If there are any significant changes in your circumstances (for example, if you stop trading or become insolvent, substantially change the nature of your business, are involved in a merger or are taken over), you must tell us within 28 calendar days.

(9) You must also send us details of any third party or intermediary, in the UK or abroad, that helped you recruit employees.”

It is clear from the London Met problems that the UKBA are not afraid of making an example of sponsors who are not complying with their duties. They will be checking up on employers to make sure that they have systems in place to comply with these duties, and to check that they are actually complying with these duties. This is particularly relevant at this time as many organisations will now be renewing their registration from the start of the system four years ago. The renewal may well be a prompt for an audit of their systems to be carried out by the UKBA.

Any employer which sponsors workers from outside Europe will need now to double-check its systems to make sure it is complying with its duties under the sponsorship system.