Report on bogus colleges published by Committee

21 July 2009

In a report released today the Commons Home Affairs Committee says the number of foreign nationals who may already have entered the UK on fraudulently-obtained student visas could be in the tens of thousands and express their concerns that they had seen no evidence that the Home Office has made adequate preparations to deal with the issue

The Committee says that insufficient quality assurance procedures on the part of the former Department for Innovations, Universities and Skills for private educational establishments have allowed bogus colleges to bring foreign nationals into the UK on fraudulently-obtained student visas. It is pleased that the UK Border Agency has recognised the deficiencies of this system and introduced more rigorous regulation of educational establishments sponsoring student visas but the Committee says it remains "cautious about the UK Border Agency’s ability to deal with this issue and will continue to monitor sponsorship arrangements once Tier 4 of the Points Based System has been fully implemented."

In particular the Committee is deeply concerned that advance notice of inspection visits by the UK Border Agency has been given in up to 85 per cent of cases, a situation it says is unacceptable and does not confer confidence in the rigour of the inspection regime in combating bogus colleges. The UK Border Agency should ensure that sufficient resources are provided to allow for rigorous and, critically, unannounced inspections. The Committee says however that it found no substantial evidence to corroborate the alleged link between bogus colleges and terrorist activity. The Pakistani nationals who entered the country on fraudulently-obtained student visas and who were arrested in Operation Pathway in April 2009 were subsequently released without charge, and it seems that the foreign students involved in previous terrorist plots have entered the UK on genuine student visas. Evidence to the Committee suggested that most individuals entering the UK on fraudulently-obtained student visas do so in order to work illegally.

Chairman of the Committee Rt Hon Keith Vaz said:

"Bogus colleges may have allowed tens of thousands of foreign nationals to enter the country illegally: the Government has been aware of their existence for ten years and done nothing to stop them. This is totally unacceptable and frankly, quite unbelievable. This should not be allowed to continue and action must be taken immediately.

"The Government must restrict the term 'college' to prevent any premises above a fish and chip shop from being able to claim it is a reputed educational institution. The term 'college' should only be given to accredited institutions.

"Firm enforcement action must be taken against any individual whose student visa has expired to ensure that they leave the country, as well as against those who have set up bogus colleges to perpetrate visa fraud. We are not convinced that this is happening at the moment. Critically, we are concerned that, for example, unannounced inspections of colleges are not being used effectively and UKBA must provide the resources to ensure this is done. However, people who do enter the country via bogus colleges can also have been "conned" themselves, thinking they were obtaining a legitimate visa. As they have entered the country illegally they cannot be allowed to remain but we should not risk losing the valuable intelligence they could offer on these colleges."

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