One in six foreign students who arrived in the UK in 2009 wasn’t actually a student, according to Tom Whitehead writing in the Telegraph. The latest estimates suggest that during the flawed implantation of the student visa system, up to 50,000 bogus students may have entered the country and started working illegally. The Commons Public Account Committee suggests that three years later officials are still behind on the problem — and that most of the fraudulent entries are still working in the UK.
This comes a week after the Home Office stripped London Metropolitan University of its power to sponsor to foreign students following the conclusion of an investigation which revealed a quarter of LMU students should not have been let into the country.
The UK Border Agency is also being blamed for the problem as it appear they abandoned the previous slate of immigration checks before the new monitoring system was properly in place.
Margaret Hodge is chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee:
“It is extraordinary that the UK Border Agency introduced its new points based system for students before proper controls were in place to replace the old ones.
“The result of the Agency’s poorly planned and ill-thought out course of action was chaos: an immediate high level of abuse of the new system and a surge in the number of student visas.
“In 2009 the number of migrants who abused the student route to work rather than study went up by as much as 40,000 to 50,000.
“Since then, the Agency has been playing catch-up, continually adjusting the rules and procedures in order to try and tackle abuse.”
The new system placed the onus on sponsoring institutions to demonstrate that their students were in the country legitimately, which replaced the previous system that saw immigration officers assess foreign students with spot checks and interviews to determine authenticity. The gap between the old system being abandoned and the new system becoming fully operational lasted nearly a year according to the PAC, and this gap created a surge in fraudulently obtained visas and abuse of the system.
Mrs Hodge said: “Despite the surge in the number of people abusing the student route, the Agency has not done enough to remove those who are here illegally.
“Even where it has been told by colleges that so-called students are not studying, it has been unacceptably slow to act.
The new focus on reducing student immigration numbers is in part because they represent the largest immigration category. Removing the illegal entries is seen as key to the government’s ability to meet its Coalition pledge to reduce net migration below 100,000 a year by 2015.
However the crackdown is also being criticized by some for its potential to damage the reputation the UK has for providing top quality higher education for foreign students, and the loss of these students will cause financial hardship to many universities. Richard Bacon, MP for South Norfolk, said that it was a mistake to treat foreign students as unwelcome interlopers.