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Tier 4 changes for education providers and migrant students

07 April 2010

Changes to the Immigration Rules came into force yesterday, affecting migrant students and educational providers which sponsor them under Tier 4 of the points-based system.

The Immigration Rules now encompass changes from the Tier 4 review, including the rules governing the new Highly Trusted sponsor licence. Only sponsors who hold a Highly Trusted sponsor licence can now offer the following courses, known as 'restricted courses', to Tier 4 (General) students:

  • courses at National Qualifications Framework (NQF) level 3 or equivalent; and
  • courses below degree level that include a work placement (other than foundation degrees, which can still be offered with a work placement by any Tier 4 (General) sponsor).

Education providers who hold a standard Tier 4 sponsor licence can only offer courses at or above NQF level 4 or equivalent. And they cannot offer courses that include work placements unless those courses are degree-level courses or foundation degrees.

(A foundation degree is a programme of study which leads to a qualification awarded at a minimum of level 5 on the revised National Qualifications Framework by an English higher education institution with degree-awarding powers, or awarded on a directly equivalent basis in the devolved administrations. In Scotland, a Higher National Diploma at Level 8 on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework is equivalent to a foundation degree.)

If a student is studying a restricted course at an institution that does not hold a Highly Trusted sponsor licence, they can continue to study at that institution until they complete their course of study or their permission to stay under Tier 4 expires, whichever is sooner. If a student wants to extend their stay to complete their studies on an affected course, they must do so at an institution that holds a Highly Trusted sponsor licence.

More information is available in the sections for Tier 4 (General) students and sponsors.

Transitional arrangements for education providers

Publicly funded institutions that were deemed to hold a Highly Trusted sponsor licence on 6 April 2010 are now listed as 'Highly Trusted' on the Tier 4 register of sponsors, pending their application for a Highly Trusted sponsor licence. If they do not apply by 30 June 2010, they will lose this status and will be unable to access the Highly Trusted sponsor benefits from 1 July 2010. If you know that your institution will not need or want to apply for a Highly trusted Sponsor licence, please inform us by writing to

If your institution did not qualify for automatic inclusion as a Highly Trusted sponsor and is currently an A-rated sponsor, you may want to apply for a Highly Trusted sponsor licence. If you make this application by 30 April 2010, you can continue to offer restricted courses until 30 June 2010 or the date when your application is decided, whichever is sooner. If you do not apply for a Highly Trusted sponsor licence by 30 April 2010, you will not be able to offer restricted courses to Tier 4 (General) students after 1 May 2010.

Update to bulk data transfer functionality

Bulk data transfer is a facility that allows Tier 4 sponsors to transfer data in bulk from their own student record IT systems to our sponsorship management system. The facility's functionality has now been enhanced. Details of the enhancement can be found in the covering letter on the Bulk data transfer toolkit page.