Border and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas has promised to “act swiftly” against any breaches of tough new rules designed to stop the misuse of the student visa route to the UK.
The statement follows an investigation by The Times this week claiming that a network of bogus colleges had been selling entry to the UK under the cover of student visas.
“The UK Border Agency is systematically vetting colleges to clamp down on abuse of the rules,” said Mr Woolas.
Concerns over bogus colleges have prompted the introduction of a much tougher inspection system for institutions wanting to recruit overseas students and sponsor them for student visas.
Mr Woolas said that “this alleged fraud took place under the old system, and highlights exactly why I have brought forward changes which crack down on abuse of the student route into the UK”.
The crackdown has seen the introduction of a more thoroughly vetted accreditation scheme for colleges and closer scrutiny of individual students, including the requirement for biometric identity cards.
The move follows concerns about the lucrative trade in bogus colleges operating as covers for student visa fraud – described by Mr Woolas as “the major loophole in Britain’s border controls”.
About a quarter of colleges applying for registration as sponsors under Tier 4 of the points system have been rejected – and so far no colleges which have been accredited have had this status withdrawn.
Around 1,500 public and private educational institutions have been licences to sponsor overseas students, but hundreds more are awaiting accreditation.
The immigration minister has promised to maintain a tough stance if there are signs of fraud under the new tighter regulations.
“We will act swiftly where there is credible evidence of organised abuse of the immigration system by any college – registered as a sponsor or not,” said Mr Woolas.
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