The Times has reported that University lecturers have voted to boycott new visa rules which they say force staff to spy on foreign students.
Lecturers are objecting to strict new ‘Tier 4′ immigration rules, which make colleges responsible for their overseas students.
Educational providers must keep a copy of students’ passports, report them if they fail to enrol or consistently miss lectures, or if they drop out. They must also raise concerns if students are suspected of being involved in terrorism.
But members of the University and Colleges Union, UCU, voted on Friday to ignore the legislation calling it “discriminatory” and “an attack on the civil liberties of international staff and students”.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, said: “Our members are educators not border guards.”
Under the rules implemented in March, foreign workers (under Tier 2 of the points based system) and students (Tier 4) must carry biometric ID cards and all universities and colleges need a licence from the UK Border Agency to recruit non-EU/EEA students.
The union says the laws require members “to carry out policing and surveillance duties” on behalf of the Home Office.
“It is likely to lead to draconian absence and sickness policies being introduced and members being disciplined if they do not report absences of international staff and students,” a motion, carried at the union’s conference in Bournemouth, said.
A spokeswoman for the UK Border Agency said the Home Office would not tolerate fraudulent applicants trying to abuse Britain’s immigration rules, or “dodgy colleges” that facilitate them.
At present there are 240,000 non-EU students in Britain making it one of the most popular destinations for higher education in the world.
“Educational institutions have a duty of care to all their students and checking that they are attending and making progress in their studies is part of that responsibility,” the Home Office spokeswoman said.
“The records we expect education providers to keep are those which most will keep for their own purposes anyway.”
Over 400 members, representing lecturers across the UK carried a motion instructing their union to “provide all possible support” for anyone who refuses to carry out the checks.
The union will now lobby for the abolition of the visa rules and will “launch a campaign of non-compliance with all such policing and surveillance duties,” its members said.
But not all union members agree with the boycott action.
Jim Guild, a representative of the University of Sussex UCU branch, said that the union could not collectively refuse to monitor students without declaring a dispute and that it was unclear whether the rules counted as an employment issue for the purposes of trade union action. “The union can’t protect members who participate in an act of boycott,” he added.
However, he added that employers were as concerned by the new system as staff. Universities fear that students will be deterred from applying to UK institutions by new requirements that they show they have sufficient funds for their stay. “At the University of Glasgow, 15 to 20 per cent of overseas applications have run into the sand,” Mr Guild said.
Elizabeth Clear, a delegate from University College London, said the rules were already adversely affecting students. One full-time overseas student who had asked to switch to a part-time course was told that she would have to return to her home country and reapply. “In the past, the change would have been straightforward,” Ms Clear said.
Immigration Matters Comment
Whilst Universities and unions may be able to protest and boycott the UK Border Agency rules, smaller colleges and employers do not enjoy that luxury.
“Independent colleges and educational providers face losing their licence unless they fully comply with the rules”, said Cynthia Barker Centre Manager of Majestic College.
“We went through nine months of hard work and spent thousands of pounds to get our Tier 4 licence, so we cannot afford to risk losing it by arguing with the UKBA”, she added.
Tier 4 should not present too many problems for Universities, which has the resources and manpower to cope with the increased administrative burden.
The student visa process will also be consistent under Tier 4, with Entry Clearance Officers (ECO’s) no longer being able refuse on subjective grounds such as: “on the balance of probabilities you are unlikely to return home at the end of your studies” or “your real intention is to work in the UK rather than study”.
Visa applicants still have the right of appeal on refusals based on previous Rules, however, refusals under Tier 4 applications (made after 31 March 2009) will be dealt with by an in-house ‘Administrative Review’ system.
If you need any immigration advice or help with Sponsorship or Work Permits, Visa or an appeal against a refusal please email: