Report shows 50,000 abuse student visa system

The National Audit Office (NAO) has published a damning report indicating that up to 50,000 people may have come to Britain to work rather than study under Tier 4 of the points based system.

The NAO report, Immigration: The Points Based System - Student Route states that Tier 4 was launched in 2009 ‘with predictable flaws,’ and that ‘the flaws in the system were both predictable and avoidable.’

The NAO also state the the UKBA did little to check students were attending college, ensure students’ leave to remain and took little action to prevent and detect students overstaying or working in breach of their visa conditions. This combination of oversights led to situations where ‘[UKBA] enforcement teams have been unable to arrest students found working and not attending college.’

Indeed, one of the headline quotes on the NAO website is this: ‘The Agency regards students who do not comply with their visa conditions as a low priority compared with illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers, and is slow to take action to deal with such students. Action planned by the Agency to ensure that those with no right to remain in the UK are identified and required to leave must now be pursued more vigorously.’ - Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 27 March 2012

How did this happen?

The UKBA started accepting applications under Tier 4, which replaced the previous system for non-EEA student visas, in 2009 under the previous Labour government. Since then the NAO estimate that between 40,000 and 50,000 individuals entered the UK via Tier 4 to work instead of study. This estimate is based on college enrolment rates and changes in patterns of applications and refusals and is not a definite number.

Whilst the controls on Tier 4 were strengthened last year, including stricter controls on institutions and the new Highly Trusted Sponsor status, the UKBA withdrew powers before these were in place. This meant that the UKBA withdrew entry clearance officers’ powers to test applicants’ intentions before it had controls in place over sponsor colleges and the documentation required to support an application.

The report also found that, ‘between March 2009 and February 2010, the [Border] Agency detected thousands of forged college visa letters at some application centres. The agency did not check that those who entered through suspect routes were attending college.’

To compound this problem, the NAO also employed a specialist contractor to try and track down over 800 migrants currently wanted by the UKBA for breaches of their visas. In the course of a week this contractor found addresses for a quarter of these people at a cost of £3,000 - that’s about £15 per person. The UKBA are now following up on these details.

What happens now?

The UKBA have already introduced a new system of accreditation for education institutions last November, which should result in fewer bogus colleges bringing students to the UK, and better management of the students who are granted visas. They are also planning visits to colleges - which didn’t happen before - to help ensure migrants are actually studying as they declare.

New rules for student visas will also be coming into force on 6 April 2012 which will sever the link between study and work for the large majority of students.

Damian Green, the immigration minister, said: “This government has introduced radical reforms in order to stamp out abuse and restore order to the uncontrolled student visa system we inherited.

“These measures are beginning to bite, we have already seen the number of student visas issued drop considerably in the second half of 2011, compared to the same period in 2010.”


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