A report from the National Audit Office claims that poor management was responsible for widescale abuse of the overseas student visa system.
In the first year of Tier 4 of the flagship ‘points based system’ brought in under the previous Labour governemnt, up to 50,000 migrants may have used flaws in the student visa system to come to the UK for work, the public spending watchdog says.
The points-based system was set up without key controls, potentially leading to tens of thousands of migrants entering the UK without any checks as to whether they were attending a college, the National Audit Office (NAO) said.
The critical report added that the under-fire UKBA also does little to ensure that foreign students leave the UK when requests to extend their stay are refused.
The Telegraph said that immigration officials took measures to tighten the system up by increasing checks on colleges and applicants, but the National Audit Office found its controls are still lacking.
Colleges have notified the UK Border Agency of more than 60,000 times of students not attending studies in breach of their visa conditions during the 18 months up until October 2011.
Official auditors believe many of these people are still in the country, as immigration staff do not regard removing them as a “priority”.
Addresses for almost one-fifth of more than 800 migrants wanted by the agency were found in just one week at a cost of £3,000 by a contractor hired by the watchdog.
Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the Commons committee of public accounts, said: “This is one of the most shocking reports of poor management leading to abuse that I have seen.
“It is completely unacceptable that the programme was launched without key controls being in place.
“The agency has done little to stop students overstaying their visas. And it is extremely worrying that the agency does not know how many people with expired student visas are still in the country.”
She went on: “It should be a real wake-up call to the agency that the NAO were able to track down 147 migrants who are probably here illegally within a week at a cost of only £3,000.
“The agency needs to get a grip and fix the way it deals with student visas.”
Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said the flaws in the student visa system for people applying from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) were “both predictable and avoidable”.
The agency withdrew entry clearance officers’ powers to test applicants’ intentions before it had controls in place over sponsor colleges, the report said.
Between 40,000 and 50,000 people may have entered the UK to work rather than to study in the year after the new system was introduced in 2009, based on college enrolment rates and changes in patterns of applications and refusals, the watchdog said.
But Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, told BBC’s Today programme’s Sarah Montague that they are concerned that a negative message is being put out that international students are not welcome in the UK.
She said that applications coming into UK universities are holding up reasonably well but there have been significant dips from the Indian subcontinent.
“Genuine students are going to competitor countries”, she said.
Ms. Dandridge said that it was “not just a financial equation but it goes much wider”.
But she acknowledged the question of tightening up of the visa system is true but maintained that “we must recognise that UK Border Agency could work more effectively in partnership with universities” in order to achieve “a sensible collaborative approach” in order to adhere to compliance in terms of immigrant students. Source: BBC.
The UK Border Agency (UKBA) recently announced a number of further changes to the Immigration Rules, which will affect thousands of international students on Tier 4 visas.
The majority of changes come into effect on 6 April 2012, however some of the changes to Tier 2 will affect those who were granted leave after 6 April 2011.
The Tier 4 changes include:
Implementing the final set of changes to the student visa system that were announced in March 2011, including:
- Extending the interim limit for sponsors that have applied for educational oversight and Highly Trusted Sponsor status and have not yet been assessed.
- Introducing limits on the time that can be spent studying at degree level.
- Tightening work placement restrictions.
The plans form part of government’s target to reduce net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands.
Since the coalition came to power they have changed the Immigration Rules in order to slash the number of migrants from outside the European Union who can come here to work, and have introduced sweeping changes to the Tier 4 student visa system.
The problem is the rules have also become so complicated that even people working in the industry do fully understand them, let alone overseas students and their parents.
A Chinese student agent recently asked Immigration Matters to explain the rules on working hours, since he thought all students were restricted to 10 hours per week, which he said was too low.
He also assumed that students applying to ‘Highly Trusted’ colleges were given the same treatment whether they were government owned or privately run.
In both cases he was incorrect in his assumptions, so it is hardly surprising that many students arrive in the UK (or renew their visas) only to find out that they cannot work at all.
In fact students now applying can work 20 hours per week at government owned UK universities and 10 hours at government owned colleges, but none at all at private colleges after July 2011.
The agent has diverted his attentions to Australia, Canada and the US.
If the UK’s mixed messages are confusing student agents, how much more must this be affecting potential students and their parents who pay the fees?
If you need any immigration advice or help with Sponsorship or Work Permits, Visa, ILR/Settlement, Citizenship, dependant visa or an appeal against a refusal please email:
Majestic College offer special packages for EU students. They also have a number of employers looking for staff right now and are willing to employ Bulgarians and Romanians.
For more information call Joanna on 0208 207 1020 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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!