Immigration loophole 'will allow more fake colleges to open'
A glaring loophole in immigration rules means that bogus colleges can open for six months without having their credentials checked, MPs were told.
By Matthew Moore
Published: 7:00AM BST 03 Jun 2009
Phil Woolas, the immigration minister, admitted he had no idea how many foreigners were living in Britain illegally after enrolling on spurious courses.
The Home Affairs Committee was told that tens of thousands overseas “students” had entered the country through around 2,000 fake colleges in recent decades.
Tony Millns, the chief executive of English UK, which represents English language colleges, said that abuses of the immigration system by bogus colleges amounted to a “national scandal”.
And he warned that new measures which require colleges to be approved before they can start bringing in foreign students would not prevent bogus institutions from opening.
“It's almost unbelievable that anyone can hire two rooms above a fish and chip shop, and call themselves a college,” Mr Millns said.
“There are still a couple of pretty obvious loopholes in the system. To start with colleges will be able to stay open and be on the register for six months before they are checked.”
He added: “It could be tens of thousands of bogus students in this country quite easily. I would go so far as to say it's a national scandal.”
Mr Woolas told the committee that a new points-based immigration will halt widespread abuses of the system, but conceded that the Government could not be sure how many fake students had already set up home in Britain.
“It is best not to guess if you are not sure,” he told MPs.
The UK Borders Agency is currently vetting colleges, and claims that the number of institutions bringing in foreign students has already been reduced from 4,000 to around 1,600. All students applying for a visa are now fingerprinted and checked against security and immigration watchlists.
But Nick Lewis, the principal of Castle College in Nottingham and a member of the Association of Colleges, told the committee that the Government was warned about the problem of fake colleges ten years ago, and failed to act.
He said the spread of bogus institutions was undermining Britain's reputation for educational excellence.
The committee was told that a “cottage industry” of fake education certificates existed in parts of the country. Some colleges were set up by people who had themselves got in to Britain illegally and then exploited student visas to set up a “pipeline” bringing in friends, relatives and other illegal migrants, the committee heard.
Mr Millns called for restrictions on who could use the term “college” to describe themselves in the same way that “university” is restricted.
A UK Border Agency spokesman denied Mr Millnss claim, saying it was simply not true that colleges can be on the list for six months without being checked.
All colleges receive thorough checks before they are issued a licence to sponsor foreign students, he said.
Before an institution can bring over any student, we have to be satisfied they are genuine – this includes approval by an accredited body, and assessment of their premises, courses and teaching staff.
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