Immigration system – phase nearing completion

What will probably be the last meeting of the Tier 4 IT Working Group before the new release goes live was held yesterday (Monday). The meeting outlined the progress on the development of the Sponsor Management System (SMS) for Tier 4 of the points based immigration system. UKBA and a number of higher education staff involved advised that the user acceptance testing had largely gone well with only a few minor defects identified and some points to be fed into guidance and policy for clarification. The bulk data transfer upload was tested as part of UAT but only with sample data supplied. The first sample data files from student records systems suppliers will be tested later this week – it is hoped that there will be further opportunities to test the bulk transfer files later in the year ahead of the date when use of the SMS becomes compulsory. The bulk data transfer toolkit will be relaunched later this month and will include the validation rules used within the SMS after the file has been uploaded, sample files and the CAS lifecycle. Those involved in the testing also noted that they need to provide better guidance on the use of the system for their own staff to reflect how the entry clearance officers assessing applications will use the data entered. It is hoped that this guidance will be made more widely available to ensure that there is consistency in the data entered and less risk that applications will be rejected through poor data quality.

The plans for the next release of the SMS software, due in the first quarter of 2010 were also outlined. This release will contain the fourth bulk update (to update fee information) and a number of other enhancements identified through use of the system for Tiers 2 and 5. The release will also include improved functionality for submitting change of circumstances.

So a phase of the development is near to closing. There hasn’t been a great response to UKBA’s request for institutions to advise them whether they expect to start using the system in the trial phase but it is hoped that there will be a sufficient volume to ensure that the SMS is at least working correctly even if there has not been the opportunity to fully test the bulk data transfers between the systems. There is still work to be done but the technical aspects are probably the least of the problems. What isn’t clear is whether institutions have considered the procedures they need to implement in order to manage this process, or whether there is a consistent approach by overseas agents processing applications. The latter is something that will only be highlighted by using the system. The former was certainly flagged up at a UCISA event and I believe has been highlighted by UKBA on their roadshows. But a number of those present at the Working Group still appeared to only be focussing on the technical side…

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