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More deterrents to overseas students as UK Home Secretary announces ECO interviews to “root out visa abuse” | Immigration Matters

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British Embassy visa consular staff will interview more than 100,000 country targeted prospective students applying for Tier 4 visas to study in Britain, as the government moves to stop “bogus students” from entering the country, UK Home Secretary Theresa May has announced.

In the speech on immigration, which was of course welcomed by the anti-student visa immigration Migration Watch founder Sir Andrew Green, May said Entry Clearance Officer (ECO) interviews would be extended to “all routes to Britain”. This means as many as 250,000 people hoping to come to Britain could face a visa interview, assuming they will even bother trying.

In the speech to a centre-right Policy Exchange thinktank May made the announcement whilst claiming that in a recent pilot study by the UK Border Agency, 2,300 prospective students were interviewed and ECO’s had found that “abuse was rife”.

The Home Secretary added: “So I can announce that, from today, we will extend radically the Border Agency’s interviewing programme. Starting with the highest-risk countries, and focusing on the route to Britain that is widely abused, student visas, we will increase the number of interviews to considerably more than 100,000, starting next financial year.

“From there, we will extend the interviewing programme further across all routes to Britain, wherever the evidence takes us. I believe this new approach will help us to root out the abuse of British visas, and improve the integrity of our immigration system.”

May said that there would be no cap on the number of overseas students allowed to come to Britain. “If you can speak English, and you can get a place on a proper course at a proper university, you can come to study in Britain,” she said.

But she added: “We are also clear that student visas are not a backdoor route into working in Britain. We are clamping down on that kind of abuse. Colleges have lost their right to sponsor foreign students. Bogus students have been turned away. And, through more and more interviewing, we are getting better at identifying and rejecting people we don’t want to come to Britain.”

But May was keen to demonstrate that the Britain is not closed for business following concerns from Boris Johnson, Vince Cable and David Willetts that the restrictive approach is deterring wealth creators from seeking to move to Britain.

May made clear she had heard these concerns when she said that Britain was improving the provision of visas for Chinese visitors. “We’ve made it easier for Chinese visitors to come here, by simplifying documentation requirements, establishing a new Business Network across China, extending our express visa service, and introducing a new passport pass-back scheme for visa applicants.

Chinese tourists are increasing bypassing the UK when visiting Europe, as Britain is not part of the Schengen area visa system.

“So our reforms to economic migration have struck a balance, and they send a clear message: if you have skills we need, and a company is willing to give you a job, come to Britain. If you have an investment to make, do it in Britain. And if you have a great business idea, bring it to Britain.”

The Minister highlighted the need to act by saying that allowing “more and more immigration” would make it impossible to build an “integrated, cohesive society”. She gave an example of the impact of immigration by citing new research that showed it has increased property prices.

“One area in which we can be certain mass immigration has an effect is housing. More than one-third of all new housing demand in Britain is caused by immigration. And there is evidence that without the demand caused by mass immigration, house prices could be 10% lower over a 20-year period. Facts like these need to be carefully considered, and I look forward to seeing the results of the work we’re doing in the Home Office, but I think we can already be confident that mass immigration puts pressure on infrastructure and public services.”

The Guardian reported that Sir Andrew Green, the former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, who has long campaigned for greater restrictions on immigration, warmly welcomed May’s speech. “That was a very impressive account of what you have been up to over the last two and a half years and an amazing contrast with the complete shambles that you took over. We particularly welcome your interviewing of 100,000 students. That is the biggest gap in the whole system.”

May replied: “Thank you, Andrew.”

Back to square one for international students

Students in India and Pakistan are already experiencing short sharp interviews and subjective decision making from ECOs, despite the fact that the Tier 4 student visa system is supposed to be points based.

Students holding official IELTS certificates, which universities have accepted as proof of their ability to speak English, have complained that they are being subjected to an ECO asking questions like “When did you last see your girlfriend”, and when they could not answer (because in many cultures young men and women do not have girlfriends and boyfriends because they get married) they are refused because they “cannot hold a conversation”!

Overseas students now have no right of appeal against these subjective refusals, which are based on the opinion and English language “assessment” of an unqualified person.

May’s reference to the term “bogus students” is an insult to people who want to send their children along with up to £50,000 in order to study and in the UK.

Her assertion is that because someone “fails” a brief interview held behind plate glass they are “bogus” and trying to “abuse” the system. Does this mean that if someone fails their driving test they are a “bogus driver” or if a British student fails an exam they are “abusing the system”?

May did not say whether or not more border staff would be recruited, to replace those who had been made redundant in a cost cutting programme, or if visa offices previous closed would now be reopened. Otherwise students – worth £40 billion to the UK economy –  may be faced with long visa delays and journeys to other countries to attend interviews.

The last Government closed many visa postings and took away ECO’s powers to refuse students who met the Tier 4 points criteria, which is one of the reasons why the right of appeal against  a refusal was removed.

If you need any immigration advice or are worried about the new immigration rules or need help with Sponsorship or Tier 2, Tier 4, applying for university if your college has closed down, Visa, ILR, Settlement, Citizenship, Dependant Visa or an appeal against a UK Border Agency or British Embassy refusal, or if you have been waiting for a reply from the Home Office for longer than a year, please email: or visit for free immigration news updates.

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New Tier 4 student visa rules now in force

Student visa crackdown damaging our reputation abroad, Universities UK warns

What to do if your UK student visa is expiring

UKBA backlog of 150,000 Tier 4 student notifications of changes allowed thousands to overstay visas says Chief Inspector of Immigration


Don’t let lawbreaking employers ruin your chance of indefinite leave to remain

New Tier 4 sponsor guidance published for Highly Trusted Sponsorship – will your private college qualify?

Post Study Work Visa to be abolished April 2012 as part of student visa clampdown

Assisted Voluntary Return scheme for visa overstayers has a ’sting in its tail’ 

London Mayor Boris Johnson slams UK immigration policy

Canada Immigration Minister supports UK Border Agency’s tough action revoking London Metropolitan University Tier 4 Sponsors Licence

500 private Tier 4 sponsor colleges closed by UK Border Agency

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Looking for a Tier 4 college or University or need advice?

UKUS is a free University and College Admissions and advice service based in London, UK. Students interested in studying abroad can complete the Online UKUS Registration Form for more details.

Overseas students and workers can qualify for a tax refund

You could qualify for a tax refund if you are an overseas student, work permit holder, Tier 1, Yellow or Blue Card holder – in fact any visa type – even if you are no longer legal or even in the UK!

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12 Responses to “More deterrents to overseas students as UK Home Secretary announces ECO interviews to “root out visa abuse””
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    I am helpless here please UKBA intervene on my behalf, i have not worked since July 2011.
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  11. […] contrast Theresa May also announced British Embassy visa consular staff will interview more than 100,000 country targeted prospective students applying for Tier 4 visas to study in […]

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