Date updated: Thursday 30th November 2023

Independent schools have the ability to sponsor overseas students under the Child Student route (for children aged 4 – 17) or the Student route (for children aged 16+). In our experience, the sponsorship of international students to study in the UK often represents a significant revenue stream for an independent school as well as enables overseas students to experience the UK education system.

In order to sponsor students, an independent school must hold a Child Student sponsor licence. We have outlined the key stages of the application process below.

1.    Prepare and submit sponsor licence application

To apply for a Child Student sponsor licence, it is necessary to apply via an online application form and supply specified documents to prove that the school meets the UKVI’s requirements. When considering the application, the UKVI will consider the two principles of sponsorship:

1.    Sponsorship is a privilege, not a right – as such, the UKVI require those who benefit most directly from student migration (education providers) to help prevent the system from being abused; and

2.    Overseas nationals applying to come to the UK to study must be eligible to do so and must have a reputable education provider who genuinely wishes to teach them.

The UKVI will thereafter consider if the mandatory supporting documentation and information has been provided and determine whether an independent school is eligible and suitable to hold a Student sponsor licence and capable of carrying out its duties as a sponsor. It will take into account any relevant factors, including (but not limited to) whether:

•    The independent school and all its sites meet the Student Educational Oversight requirement – the required standard for education providers inspected by ISI is ‘Met’;
•    Any time restriction for an application for a Student sponsor licence has been complied with;  
•    There has been previous compliance with the Immigration Rules and sponsorship guidance; 
•    The independent school is a genuine institution that is operating lawfully in the UK (i.e. registered with HMRC, holding the correct fire risk assessment and required planning permission);
•    All key personnel (those involved in the management of the sponsor licence) are eligible, suitable and have complied with immigration law in the past;
•    There are systems, policies and processes in place to enable compliance with sponsorship duties; and
•    There have been any misrepresentations with regards to holding a Student sponsor licence.

Due to the child safeguarding duties placed on Student sponsor licence holders, the UKVI often require a significant amount of detail as to the current record-keeping and student monitoring policies and procedures in place, and will often request further information as part of their decision-making process. The application should therefore be well-prepared with as much information as possible as to how the independent school intends to meet the requirements and comply with their ongoing sponsor duties.   

2.    Prepare for UKVI pre-licence visit

We are aware that the UKVI are currently visiting most if not all Student sponsor licence applicants to undertake a pre-licence compliance audit before making their decision on the application. It is therefore essential that the independent school has excellent HR systems and processes in place, as well as systems and processes for Students that are fully compliant with UKVI sponsor requirements. Before submitting any application, we would advise that all files are reviewed internally to ensure that this is the case.

Stone King can of course undertake a mock UKVI compliance audit to identify any areas of development to support with this.

3.    Grant of licence and sponsor status

If the sponsor licence application is successful, the independent school will have a Probationary Sponsor licence for 12 months. This means that the school cannot do the following during this period:

•    Offer courses at RQF level 3 to sponsored students over the age of 18;
•    Offer courses below degree level that include work placements to sponsored students; 
•    Allow sponsored students to re-sit an examination more than twice; or 
•    Allow a student to start studying until UKVI has granted their application for leave to remain to study the course.

It will thereafter be necessary for the independent school to apply for a Basic Compliance Assessment in order to obtain Student sponsor status. This must be applied for no earlier than 11 months and no later than 12 months after the date the Probationary Sponsor licence was issued.

4.    Continue to comply with all sponsorship duties

Once you have been granted a licence, it is essential to ensure ongoing compliance with the record-keeping, reporting duties and child safeguarding duties, as well as the wider duties of sponsors.

To help alleviate any compliance anxiety, Stone King has developed a number of training packages, found here, tailored to independent schools, which clearly outline the legal requirements and obligations of student sponsors, as well as tips on how to remain compliant.


Stone King regularly supports independent schools with becoming Student sponsor licence holders and can support with any application. Please contact our head of immigration, Julie Moktadir, at should you wish to discuss this further.