Check UK visa of academic visitors or lose tier 2 sponsor licence

An email sent earlier this year to staff at the University of York has sparked concerns that academics are being put in a position of makeshift UK border guards. The email urges personnel at the university to check the UK visa status of foreign visitors, raising fears about the increasingly strict enforcement of immigration rules in UK higher education institutions.

Sanwar Ali comment:

Hopefully, most overseas academics visiting an University for a short time will be able to meet the visit visa requirements. Employers with a tier 2 sponsorship licence would not usually apply for a tier 2 visa in this situation. There are a number of examples where organisations have lost their tier 2 sponsorship licence for no good reason. It seems in practice even if you do everything right you can still lose your sponsorship licence. If the Home Office thinks that visitors to a University may be breaking the immigration rules then a University could lose their tier 2 sponsorship licence.

The memo, sent by the university’s on campus human resources compliance team, instructs staff to provide details about who their foreign visitors are, where they are from and their reasons for being in the UK – whether they are giving lectures, conducting research or attending meetings.

In addition to asking overseas visitors if they have a UK visa, academics at the University of York will be required to give details of how long visitors will be remaining in the country and any payments made to them – including expenses.

Reducing right to work and sponsorship risks

According to a report published by Times Higher Education, the email says that the ‘visitor project is aimed at helping the University of York reduce the institution’s right to work and sponsorship risks.’

Compliance officer, Kari Methven, said: “In line with other higher education providers who are reviewing their processes in these areas, we are now seeking to identify and understand the different types of visitors we welcome to the University of York.”

Methven added that visitors’ detailed would be collated with a view to determining if there’s any need for a right to work check and the level of risk involved. She said: “We’re obliged, as an employer and a sponsor, to ensure that all work carried out on behalf of the university is done so by people who have the right to work in a paid or unpaid capacity.”

One academic at the University of York, who wanted to remain anonymous, described the request to monitor international visitors as ‘problematic.’ The unnamed academic said: “It’s very disturbing to see this kind of surveillance happening.”

“People who visit us tend to be doing us a favour rather than the other way round. They come to talk to students or to us and ironically they are not getting paid – it’s out of goodwill. So the idea that we need to monitor this so we can report to the Home Office is worrying. It’s a slippery slope,” the academic said.

Makeshift UK Visa border guards

The Director of the Centre for Research and Analysis on Migration, Christian Dustmann, echoed the concerns of the anonymous academic. He described the situation as ‘unfortunate’ and questioned the logic of putting academics in a position of makeshift border guards to enforce immigration rules.

Dustmann said: “The situation’s bizarre considering that higher education is one of the UK’s biggest exports.”

The email sent to staff asks them to specify how many different types of visitors – students, researchers or invited speakers – they welcomed each year. The memo says that the information provided would be compiled for the “purpose of assessing visitor types against Home Office regulations to understand the risk.”

“We will then make recommendations to the university as to how visitors should be managed in the future, based on these risks,” the email said.

Feeling the pressure from the Home Office

Education officials say they are feeling ‘real pressure’ from the Home Office and institutions fear losing the right to sponsor workers using the Tier 2 visa scheme because they’ve unintentionally failed to comply with UK immigration rules.

A spokesperson for the University of York said: “We want to continue recruiting and working with the best academics and students from around the world without the challenges of UK visa restrictions. We want those rights to be protected and guaranteed for the future.” can help with Tier 2 Visa Sponsorship Licences and Tier 2 Visas

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