British college probed for allegedly selling certificates to migrants
Press Trust of India
Updated: August 14, 2010 00:54 IST
London: A college run by a Pakistani citizen in Manchester is under investigation following reports that it created a fraudulent gateway to British citizenship by selling English language certificates to hundreds of Asian immigrants, including those from India.
The cash-for-qualifications investigation was launched after The Times discovered that recent students of Oxford College of Management Sciences appeared to have little or no knowledge of what, when and where they had studied to gain their certificates.
The man believed to have been running the college, Rizwan Ahmed Kiyani, is a 38-year-old Pakistani who appears to have spent much of the past seven years posing as a student while working in a series of full-time jobs, the report said.
Kiyani has twice been detained by British immigration authorities and has been due for deportation since May 2008, yet remains free and is applying for indefinite leave to remain in the country.
His business partner Mohamed Amer, another Pakistani citizen and a director of the college, is living in the UK under one identity but uses another name, Amer Masood Mir, on his Pakistani passport to make regular trips to his home city of Rawalpindi.
He apparently has no legal right to be in the UK, the Times report said.
Quoting a government source, the report said Amer was under investigation by the UK Border Agency, which was actively seeking to remove both men from the country.
During the past 12 months, Oxford College has expanded rapidly, moving from its former base in Manchester to open satellite language centres in Birmingham, Bradford, Oldham, Burnley, Blackburn and Rochdale.
Some have reception desks but appear not to have classrooms.
The report heightens concern – prompted by a huge rise last year in the number of immigrants from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh who were granted British citizenship – that hundreds of poorly regulated private colleges have found a new way to exploit severe weaknesses in immigration controls.
The Labour Government and the Conservatives pledged to clamp down on abuses of the student visa entry system after a group of colleges was exposed for selling bogus places and fake degrees to thousands of illegal migrant workers.
Similar unscrupulous institutions are now allegedly rigging ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) and Skills for Life citizenship courses to help immigrants already in the UK to cheat their way to British passports.
Passing the ESOL course entitles immigrants who meet other requirements to apply for British citizenship or indefinite leave to remain.
It requires 100 hours of classroom-based study, yet one man who registered with an Oxford College centre claimed he was told that he had gained a pass certificate less than 15 minutes into his first lesson.
Concerns were raised last December by Ofqual, the exams regulator, that ESOL certificates were being issued by some colleges “with virtually no training or learning taking place and with insufficient rigour in the assessment process”.
More than 203,000 immigrants successfully applied for British citizenship last year, a rise of 58 per cent on the previous year and the highest number since records were first published in 1962.
Successful citizenship applications from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh more than doubled from 24,900 in 2008 to 59,500 last year.
Quoting sources close to Oxford College, the Times report said that immigrants who speak little or no English pay the college between 250 and 450 pounds, effectively to purchase an ESOL certificate without attending any lessons.
The Home Office said it first became aware of alleged malpractice involving Oxford College ESOL certificates last month.
The police and the UK Border Agency are now conducting a joint investigation.
The Home Office said that it had rejected all applications for British citizenship since April this year that were accompanied by an ESOL certificate from the college because it no longer had correct accreditation.
Kiyani's solicitor said that his client had “no knowledge of any fraudulent activity by the college”. He had been an employee of Oxford College for “a short period” in 2008 but was not and never had been its owner and had no involvement with its management.
He also denied ever claiming falsely to be a student. Quoting a government source, the report said that the government believed Kiyani to be the college's owner.
Lin Homer, the UK Border Agency's chief executive, said that she took the information passed by the newspaper to the Home Office extremely seriously and would ensure that action was taken.
She said: “We have referred details of this college to Ofqual… to investigate as a matter of urgency”.
“Anyone found to be claiming settlement or citizenship through dubious means will be refused and they will be barred from reapplying for 10 years”.
Story first published:
August 14, 2010 00:53 IST