Which universities can sponsor student visas?
In order to apply for a visa to study a Masters in the UK you must be 'sponsored' by a recognised higher education provider. Sponsorship means the institution has accepted you as a student and can confirm that you will be studying a genuine postgraduate course with them that satisfies UK immigration requirements. Universities confirm their sponsorship by issuing students with confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS).
Institutions with the power to sponsor visas in this way are known as licensed student sponsors. This status was introduced in October 2020. It replaces the previous system of Tier 4 Sponsor status.
The majority of public universities in the UK are licensed student sponsors, as do some private providers. Your institution should be able to confirm whether it is able to sponsor your visa. You can also view a complete register of licensed student sponsors on the UK government website.
What is confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS)?
Confirmation of acceptance for studies may be issued by a university or other institution with licensed student sponsor status. As the name suggests, this confirms that you've been accepted to study at the university as a genuine international student.
You cannot apply for a student visa without CAS and you must have your CAS number before you apply for a visa. Once issued, CAS is valid for six months.
This means that you must apply for a Masters in the UK before applying for a UK visa and that you cannot wait more than six months between these applications.
Can licensed student sponsor status change?
It is rare for an institution to lose their status as a student sponsor, but this has happened in the past. New institutions may also earn student sponsor status, subject to a probationary period.
What happens to me if my university loses its licensed student sponsor status?
The effect on your of your university losing its student sponsor status will depend on the way in which this occurs:
Scenario #1: Your university loses its ability to issue new CAS
A university that loses student sponsor status may remain as a 'legacy sponsor'. This means it cannot issue new CAS, but any CAS numbers it has issued remain valid. If you are already studying at a legacy sponsor you may continue to do so for the duration of your current course and visa.
If you've not yet started your student visa application, you may continue to do so with your current CAS. Note that legacy sponsors will not normally be able to issue you a new CAS or extend your visa.
Scenario #2: Your university has its student sponsor status revoked
A university that has its student sponsor status fully revoked can no longer sponsor international students. Any CAS it has issued will also become invalid. This means you cannot apply for a student visa with a CAS issued by this institution, but you can be issued with CAS for study at another institution.
Any pending applications with your current CAS number will be refused. If you are already studying in the UK on a student visa sponsored by a revoked institution you will only be able to remain in the UK for up to 60 days unless you earn a new student visa. You can do this by transferring to another institution.
In practice, it is uncommon for an established university to lose its student sponsor status. Further advice for any students who do end up in this situation is available from the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA).