SKY News have carried out an investigation into a London business college, which it claims was running an ‘immigration scam’ involving Tier 4 students visas.
Mike, one of the former lecturers, relates a story about his effort to report what was going on to the UK Border Agency (UKBA); the lengths he went to and the number of times he was fobbed off.
A former pupil told him about the scam, revealing that fictitious certificates were being given out and people could pay for qualifications they hadn’t studied for – all for the purpose of obtaining a UK Student Visa.
Mike had contact details for the border agency but his emails and phone messages went unanswered. So next he went to the UKBA website and found no means of reporting the problem. He called a number of the UKBA in Sheffield. The women he got hold of told him he could do it all online, but when she tried to talk him through it, she couldn’t find the relevant page and began to get frustrated herself. So she gave him two email addresses. One didn’t exist, the email bounced back; nobody replied to the other.
“By now it was becoming for me a matter of principle,” said Mike “I really wanted to inform somebody of what was happening but no one seemed to be taking it seriously.”
Next he contacted a friend who runs an English Language college. She warned Mike that it was very hard to inform the Home Office of anything. “There’s just no mechanism for it.” However, she gave him the phone number she had of a border control post in the UK.
Mike called it and finally seemed to be getting somewhere. “This was the first Home Office person who seemed legitimately concerned about what was happening. He was very sad that there was nowhere on the website to report this, but he gave me a number I could call. I went to that number and they put me through to someone else, and someone else, and eventually I got through to the head of crime prevention, or fraud prevention… that deals with the area where that college was operating.”
But once this man had taken down the name of the college, without asking any further questions, Mike says he ended the conversation and hung up.
“My former student and I just looked at each other, and I said I just can’t believe it. It’s taken me two weeks to get this far with all my unanswered emails and phone calls, eventually I get the head of the section that’s supposed to deal with this, and for whatever reason he just wasn’t interested in dealing with the matter.”
When we put these allegations to the Home Office they didn’t respond directly to Mike’s experience but released a statement saying:
“We are determined to crack down on abuse of the student visa system, which has gone on for far too long. This government has brought in radical changes across the board, which are beginning to bite.
“We take all allegations very seriously and the UK Border Agency was already aware of allegations and undertook a visit to their premises on Monday as part of an on-going investigation.”
This suggests that perhaps someone did respond to Mike’s numerous efforts to be heard, because we didn’t contact the UKBA with our concerns until Tuesday. It’s a worry that people like Mike have to wage a personal campaign in order to report a suspicion.
This week the National Audit Office expressed concerns that up to 50,000 students had abused the visa system, accusing UKBA of taking its eye off the ball. It is however reminiscent of an investigation we did last year finding the UKBA discouraging employers from reporting concerns. Source: SKY News.
The owners of the college, who have asked not to be named due to possible legal action, dispute the story and have instructed their Lawyers to lodge a complaint with SKY.
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