The UK’s immigration controls are too lax, an immigration officer has told Home Secretary Alan Johnson, the BBC reports.
At an event in London, Lisa Lea told him he needed to reintroduce interviews for non-EU prospective students to cut down on a rise in bogus applicants.
Mr Johnson defended new measures and disputed reports Labour had tried to create a more multicultural UK by encouraging mass immigration.
The claims were made after the release of a previously unseen policy document.
After Mr Johnson had delivered a speech, Ms Lea told him the amount of paperwork Border Agency staff now had to fill in was “a waste of time”.
She said staff were no longer required to interview and reject immigrants they suspected of planning to work illegally.
She said paper-based applications were not a good enough filter and asked Mr Johnson: “Why are we not interviewing prospective students?
“The simplest way to establish whether someone is an economic migrant or otherwise is to bring them in and have a chat with them, as used to happen, and give the entry clearance officer the right to refuse them on the basis of credibility – which doesn’t happen any more.”
But Mr Johnson, who announced on Sunday that it was being made harder for foreign students to come to the UK, said the old system had not been “foolproof”.
He asked Ms Lea: “If interviewing all potential students was so successful why have we got so many student over-stayers who come here quite legally without the intention of studying?”
Under the new rules, applicants will need to speak English to near-GCSE level and those on short courses will not be able to bring dependents with them to the UK.
Lin Homer, chief executive of the UK Border Agency, said that foreign students were interviewed overseas and in the UK.
Mr Johnson also criticised the Office for National Statistics which has consistently predicted the UK’s population will reach 70 million within the next two decades.
He said: “The 70 million population figure produced by the Office of National Statistics has become a totem before which all politicians are expected to prostrate themselves.”
Although he accepted communities where lots of immigrants had moved in rather quickly had come under “enormous pressure”, he said immigration would help improve the ratio of retired people to those of working age.
He also dismissed claims that ministers had supported mass immigration for social engineering purposes, following the release of a draft document written in 2000, entitled Migration: an economic and social analysis.
Although a version of the document was published at the time, certain phrases relating to the government’s “social objectives” had been deleted.
Pressure group Migration Watch UK made a Freedom of Information request and the original document without the deletions has now been released.
But Mr Johnson said it was “mythical” to say there had been an “open door” immigration policy.
Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said of Ms Lea’s comments: “It is a testimony to the government’s mismanagement of the system that immigration officers feel the need to bite the hand that feeds them.”
And Conservative shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said: “We need a tough new approach to controlling immigration that puts a limit on the number of work permits we grant to people from overseas, stops people from using the student visa system as a back-door route to immigration, and sets up a dedicated border police force to combat illegal immigration.” Source BBC.
Immigration Matters Comment
Ms Lea’s comments are echoed by many who feel the Government has made it too easy for people to enter the UK to study under Tier 4 on the points based system introduced last March.
There are aspects of the new procedures which have made it easier for students to apply for visas, for instance proving sufficient maintenance.
Under the old rules the student or a sponsor needed to prove to an Entry Clearance Officer (ECO) that they had sufficient funds to pay for their studies and support themselves by submitting up to 12 months original bank statements.
The source of funds was closely scrutinised to ensure that the money was genuine and not borrowed for the purpose of obtaining a visa, commonly known as ‘show money’.
But under the first six months Tier 4, student applicants only need to demonstrate that they had funds in an account for 1 day, later extended to 28 days, and the source of funds was not questioned.
This led to thousands of Indian Tier 4 students complaining that they had no money and could not find work to fund their studies.
Prior to Tier 4, ECO’s had more powers to refuse a visa on the basis of ‘intention’ to study or return home the end of the course. This led to thousands of disputed refusals and subsequent appeals.
In redressing the balance, the Government may have gone too far leading to accusations that even terrorists have been allowed in as students.
The Home Office would argue that they have also imposed much tougher rules on educational providers, reducing the number of private colleges by over 2000.
This week Alan Johnson announced a clampdown on students applying for visas to study below degree level courses as well cutting the number of working hours allowed from 20 to 10 per week.
With an UK General Election on the cards in May, ruling Labour Part are anxious to show that they are tough on immigration, having traditionally held a softer line that their Tory challengers.