The government’s decision to add a new ‘highly trusted sponsor’ category to the points-based immigration system is a possible ‘poisoned chalice’ for education providers, immigration lawyers have warned.

Educational institutions, such as language schools, can qualify for the new sponsor category, which came into force on 6 April, by demonstrating a track record of recruiting only genuine overseas students who comply with immigration rules while in the UK. Compared with other sponsors, they will then be able to avoid red tape and offer a range of new services. A fee of £400 is payable.

Alison Harvey, general secretary of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association, said the home secretary announced the new category during a Sunday evening television interview and without first informing parliament.

‘There has been a very short turnaround, with no impact assessment of what could prove a poisoned chalice to those schools that automatically qualify. They are being signed up, with unseemly haste, to a list of obligations they have no way of knowing they can meet,’ she said.

None of the political parties want to alienate employers in the build-up to the general election, she added, but language schools are fair game.

Immigration solicitor Laura Devine, principal of her own firm, said the ‘controversial’ new category is a further segmentation of the existing sponsor rating system and, as such, could lead to confusion and non-compliance.