Bogus colleges are 'Achilles Heel' of immigration system, says Phil Woolas
Bogus colleges that help illegal immigrants slip in to Britain are the “Achilles Heel” in the immigration system, Home Office minister Phil Woolas has admitted.
By Tom Whitehead, Home Affairs Editor
Last Updated: 5:43PM BST 31 Mar 2009
The immigration minister said fake colleges and language schools are the “biggest loophole” in the system as figures showed almost one in four applying to sponsor students under new rules are potentially bogus.
Hundreds of colleges were barred from taking in foreign students under the new points-based system.
But ministers have softened their stance on foreign students having to show they can financially support themselves while here.
Initial proposals would have meant they had to demonstrate they had enough money for a year but that has now been cut to nine months.
Mr Woolas said: “In my estimation abuse of the student visa has been the biggest abuse of the system, the major loophole in Britain's border controls.
“I believe that the new system will benefit major institutions, colleges and private universities, but the backstreet bogus college is being exposed.”
New visa rules, that began yesterday, mean international students need to be accepted by genuine institutions before they can come here.
Officials estimate up to 2,000 “bogus” colleges will be forced to close because of the changes.
All colleges and universities who want to take foreign students now have to register with the Home Office.
Of the 5,000 thought to take foreign students only 2,100 have so far applied to have their credentials checked. And of those 460 have been rejected.
Frank Field MP co-chairman of the Cross Party Group on Balanced Migration, said: “This is a worrying but not totally astonishing revelation. While Ministers are right to tighten the immigration system, this uncovers the shambles that they have allowed to develop a huge number of dodgy colleges, some of which are simply designed to get round immigration controls.”
His co-chairman Nicholas Soames MP added: “Given there are nearly a quarter of a million non-EU students in British higher education institutions, the question this poses is 'how many are here under false pretences?' Ministers need to answer that question now in Parliament.”
Dr Sharon Bolton, head of international student support at Imperial, said she was concerned about bureaucracy in the new system.
The 17-page application form for existing students to renew their visas was now 55 pages long, she said.
Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, said: “These new measures make sure people who come here to study – and the people who teach them – play by the rules.
“This new tier of the points based system allows us to know exactly who is coming to the UK to study and crack down on bogus colleges.
“I have made it clear that I will not tolerate either the fraudulent applicants trying to abuse Britain's immigration rules, or the dodgy colleges that facilitate them. However Britain will always welcome legitimate students who are coming here to receive a first-rate education.”
Related Articles :
Hundreds of bogus colleges exposed
Immigrant population rose by 21% in just four years, official figures show
Foreign donors threaten academic freedom at UK universities
New migration 'tax' will be 'drop in the ocean' claims Migrationwatch
Record migration into Britain is result of Government policy failings