Alarming stories have appeared today in The Daily Mail and on the BBC website giving the impression that the government is turning a ‘blind eye’ to overstaying students. In a leaked internal memo, Immigration officers have been told not to deport foreign students who overstay their visas, unless they have broken other laws.
The Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) document, obtained by the Mail, was written after the agency’s head intervened to stop a student’s removal last month.
Chief executive Lin Homer stressed if there was evidence of corruption or fraud, students would still be removed.
In the memo to regional directors at the BIA, director of enforcement Jonathan Lindley said a law change from 1 September 2007 had led to a rise in the number of refusals for students who apply to stay in the UK after their visa’s have expired.
Visa (or Further Leave to Remain) applicants who are out of time, even by just one day, are automatically refused a further stay and this had led to some “enforced” removals, the memo said.
One removal came to the attention of the chief executive and was “cancelled”, it added.
Mr Lindley wrote: “I am surprised that any of these cases have come sufficiently high within enforcement teams’ priorities to merit such quick removal action.”
He said the policy on dealing with out-of-time applications was currently under review and asked that officers did not proceed with enforcing any student refusal cases unless “deemed to be a priority”.
According to Home Office figures, overseas students are worth £4.7 billion to the UK economy with over 300000 arriving here to study in 2006.
Ms Homer told BBC Radio 5 Live that the advice was triggered by the case of a Chinese student at university in Manchester who applied to extend her leave in time but got her bank details wrong, so had to resubmit her application.
“She corrected and sent us another form of payment, actually an old fashioned postal order, which arrived a day or two after her leave expired and because of a toughening up of the rules that was refused and enforcement action was taken – now that seemed to me to be us taking our toughness a stage too far,” Ms Homer said.
In another interview on the Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme, Ms Homer, who earns £200,000 per annum, said that the “business” had deported a record number of people last year.
John Tincey, of the Immigration Service Union, said the memo was “astonishing” and told 5 Live the main priorities were removing foreign national prisoners, followed by failed asylum seekers.
He said: “In an ideal world the Home Office would have enough money and enough immigration officers to actually go after everybody who shouldn’t be in the country.
“But the Home Office estimates there are some 600,000 people in the country illegally – to look for those people we have less than 1,500 immigration officers, so basically priorities have to be set.”
Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: “It is astonishing that warped government priorities are dictating that our immigration authorities turn a blind eye to those with no right to stay in the UK.
“These revelations reflect the continued chaos at the BIA, which is already struggling to deport foreign prisoners and remove hundreds of thousands of failed asylum seekers who are in the UK illegally.”
Immigration Matters Comment
Sensational headlines sell newspapers. But don’t be fooled into believing that overstaying students have the right to stay in the UK – they do not.
The rules have not changed in this respect. If your student visa has expired and you do not have a pending application for renewal you are not allowed to remain in the UK and you will be ordered to leave. It has always been a requirement that students should apply for an extension of their visa before it expires.
The BIA is instructing Immigration Officers to concentrate their removal and deportation activities in other areas.
This does not, however, mean the BIA will ignore the problem, rather that the overstaying student is unlikely to receive a knock on the door from an Immigration Officer, in the near future at least.
The Daily Mail headline that “BOGUS STUDENTS CAN’T BE DEPORTED” is simply not true.
Contrary to popular belief, the BIA not is going soft, far from it. In 2005 over 22000 people were forcibly removed from the UK.
The Home Office is targeting employers, and has recently announced tougher measures to stop illegal employment. Businesses employing illegal workers, including overstaying students, face £10000 fines and even prison sentences.
Anyone caught working illegally is automatically removed from the UK.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has announced several crackdowns and recently launched high profile immigration raids, including one on London‘s Chinatown, removing large numbers of people.
The message is clear- employers must check that their employees have the right to work in the UK.
When Tier 4 of the Points Based System comes into force in 2009 colleges and educational establishments will have greater responsibilities as sponsors to report students who overstay or fail to attend courses.
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