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Managing UKVI Immigration Compliance Obligations in Academic Year 21/22

With BREXIT now more or less in our rear-view mirrors, it is worth reflecting on its potential impact on institutions, in particular, the challenges of their UKVI immigration compliance obligations. It is worth noting that UKVI still holds fast to its original maxim:

Sponsorship is a privilege and not a right.

This lies at the heart of UKVI’s regulatory framework and influences their whole approach when engaging with HEIs.

From a higher education compliance perspective, BREXIT will add to the already heavy UKVI compliance and reporting workload. A quick look at HESA data for 2019/20 shows that EU students made up 27% of the total number of international students in the UK. At first sight this looks alarming. Thankfully, the potential impact is mitigated by the very significant reduction (over 50%) in undergraduate applications from EU students through UCAS for the 2021/22 admissions cycle. Further, EU students are much less likely to pose a compliance risk compared to other regions.

The global COVID-19 pandemic will continue to exert a profound influence during the 2021/22 academic year and beyond. To start with, there is the virtually bespoke monitoring and reporting requirements for sponsored students who are studying remotely in their own countries because of the pandemic. Then there is the increased incidence of UK-based online and blended learning which presents further challenges in continuing to meet our UKVI immigration compliance obligations. When the effects of remote and hybrid working are then factored in, an even more complex scenario emerges.

So, how will the sector cope with this veritable tsunami approaching? The simple answer is that our institutional systems and processes will need to be reviewed in the light of all of these challenges to ensure that they continue to be fit for purpose. This means that they have to be able to meet the needs not only of our key stakeholders, such as UKVI, but also the needs of our students by providing appropriate support and guidance to enable them to succeed in their studies.

About the Author

Philip Henry is a former U.K. University Registrar and Secretary with almost 40 years’ experience in higher education in the UK and overseas. He was an active member of the UK’s AHUA, ARC and AUA (a founding Executive Committee member) and AACRAO and ARUCC in North America.

He is still engaged in the sector as a passionate advocate of initiatives to support student success and has submitted articles to AACRAO’s College and University quarterly journal on this subject.


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