Another day, another meeting talking about the implementation of the points based immigration system. This time the focus was on the guidance to be issued to migrants which includes much of the detail to be included in the guidance to institutions. Again there has been progress and the members of the UK Border Authority staff present showed a willingness to address problems and attempt to move to a resolution. This was particularly evident during discussion on the contents of the visa letter to be issued to students in the period before the Sponsor Management System goes live.
The concern was that the sector was not ready to accommodate the demands laid out in the draft visa letter outlined on the UKBA website. Simply, institutions tend to record that the applicant has satisfied the entry requirements without recording the full details of what those qualifications were on their central student records systems which would be the main sources of data for the visa letter and, ultimately, the upload to the Sponsor Management System. UKBA recognised that this was a problem for the sector and those present from the sector recognised that the Border Authority had been encouraged to seek out forged documentation at the visa stage. The compromise solution identified by UKBA was that the minimum level of information that institutions could supply should be the level of qualification and the originating organisation. That would then require the local assessors (in the country of application) to establish whether or not the applicant presented valid evidence of a qualification of the level specified. This would still require a level of back filling of data for many institutions but those present accepted it as a reasonable compromise.
Acceptance in a meeting does not, however, guarantee overall acceptance. The suggestion needs to be referred back to quality assurance within UKBA for approval and it needs wider acceptance in the community. The two sides are likely to want to move in different directions but with time running out for a solution to be agreed, it is hoped that a sensible compromise can be reached.
Overall a mixed day. It was encouraging that the staff from UKBA were looking to identify solutions for the sector. It was encouraging that there is a recognition that there is a need to engage suppliers as soon as possible. I have been passing information to the suppliers on a regular basis – a possible workshop between UKBA and suppliers should take that on a further step and start to clarify some of the requirements for data flow between the Sponsor Management System and institutional student records systems. However, it is frustrating that, for all their willingness to understand the sector and identify solutions, the UKBA staff are not empowered to make binding decisions on many of the issues raised. Whilst issues continue to have to be referred back to another part of the organisation, progress will continue to be slow.