BBC London’s undercover investigation of a bogus East London college could lead to thousands of foreign students who attended the college being forced to leave the UK if an immigration tribunal rules that their studies were also bogus.
The Cambridge College of Learning was authorised by the Government, and visas were granted visas for international students to study there.
Last December television programme BBC London revealed that the college had been infiltrated by fraudsters, who were selling diplomas for cash with no actual studying required.
The Home Office later rejected 2,500 visa applications from the college.
Three students are now appealing against this decision, as part of a test case at the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (AIT).
Top immigration lawyer Ian Macdonald QC, representing the students, told the judges that the college was “perfectly genuine” but had been “hijacked by a small group of unscrupulous fraudsters”.
He said it was essential to separate the “wheat from the chaff”.
One of the three students, Mohammed Raja, claimed he studied a genuine post-graduate diploma in IT at the Cambridge College of Learning. He used this diploma certificate to apply for a two-year visa extension or Further Leave to Remain (The TIER 4 ‘G’ form APPLICATION FOR A GRANT OF LEAVE has since replaced the FLR form).
But Gerard Clarke QC, representing the Home Office, attacked the authenticity of Raja’s coursework, saying it had been copied “word for word” from a website.
Mr Raja insisted: “I did study there.”
Mr Clarke asked: “Was it a post-graduate diploma in how to use Google?”
In a separate case, another student has already appealed and won. He convinced judges that he was a genuine student who had not taken part in any scam.
The student, who did not want to be named, told BBC London that clearing his name had been more important to him than staying in the UK:
“It is just really embarrassing. [The college] is so notorious. It’s just like a stamp on your face…”
The principal and owner of the Cambridge College of Learning, which closed after it was raided by the UK Border Agency in December, was Saif Ullah, a Pakistani national.
Police had issued a warrant for Mr Ullah’s arrest but he is believed to have returned to Pakistan. The BBC has been unable to contact Mr Ullah.
The tribunal is expected to reach a conclusion next month.
The Home Office appoints accreditation bodies, such as ASIC, BAC and the British Council, to inspect colleges prior to applying for a sponsors licence from the UK Border Agency.
Since the introduction of Tier 4 of the points-based system on 31 March, educational institutions must appear on the UK Border Agency’s Tier 4 Register of Sponsors to recruit non EU students. This also applies to students extending their student visas.
A Home Office spokesperson said:
“All colleges receive thorough checks before they are issued a licence to sponsor foreign students.
“Before an institution can bring over any student we have to be satisfied they are genuine – this includes approval by an accredited body, and assessment of their premises, courses and teaching staff.
“By July this year, every single establishment will have been visited by a UK Border Agency assessor.”
Cynthia Barker, Centre Manager of Majestic College, which has received its Tier 4 Licence, said the whole accreditation and licensing process was “very thorough and robust” and added that the process could take up to nine months.
The new system of accrediting and licensing colleges has come under some criticism in the press recently. To be fair to the Home Office they are in the process of rolling out a stricter regime of checking and monitoring colleges.
In fact, many of the recent problems with failing or bogus colleges have only come to light because of the accreditation and licensing process.
We need to allow time the Tier 4 and sponsors licensing system, which only started on 31 March, time to bed in before we start shooting it down.
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