Short-course foreign students banned from bringing wives to UK
Richard Ford, Home Correspondent
From The Times
February 11, 2010
Tougher new rules for student visas are to be introduced next month after officials spotted a scam involving female applicants with few educational qualifications.
Applicants from outside the EU will need a higher standard of English to attend courses below degree level. The number of hours they can work will be halved to ten hours a week in term time.
Under the new rules announced by the Home Office yesterday students on courses of less than six months are to be banned from bringing their spouses and children with them. Dependants of anyone studying on a course lower than an undergraduate degree are to be banned from working.
Ministers have acted after uncovering a suspected scam involving female applicants in parts of the Indian sub-continent. Student visa applications from Bangladesh, northern India and Nepal were suspended earlier this month after a surge in numbers seeking to receive a permit to come to Britain to study.
There there were 13,500 applications from north India alone, compared with 1,800 in the same period of 2008.
Lin Homer, chief executive of the UK Border Agency, said applications from Nepal, northern India and Bangladesh have risen by more than 250 per cent.
Officials spotted that large numbers of older women were applying for student visas and that many of them had finished formal education years ago.
They suspected that a scam was being planned in which the women would then bring dependant husbands with them who would then work illegally.
Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, said the latest moves to abuse the student visa route as a way of entering the country had occurred after the Government barred unskilled workers from outside the EU from coming to Britain.
Since we took steps to bar unskilled workers from coming to the UK, there have been clear indications that the student visa route is being exploited by those whose real intention is not to study, but to find low skilled work for themselves or their families, he said.
An immigration officer at Heathrow hit back at Mr Johnson, saying the new system for dealing with non EU students was a waste of time.
Lisa Lea said that a largely paper based system, in which few applicants are interviewed, had led to a huge increase in the number of arrivals in recent months.
Why are we not interviewing prospective students? The simplest way to establish whether someone is an economic migrant or otherwise is to bring them in and have a chat with them, as used to happen, and give the entry clearance officer the right to refuse them on the basis of credibility which doesnt happen any more.
All they need to do is produce documents. It seems rather a waste of time having seen the volumes that have been arriving at Heathrow in the last few months.
Mr Johnson defended the new rules, and said the old system wasnt foolproof.
In his speech, Mr Johnson attacked Conservative plans to put an annual cap on immigration, warning that it would damage investment in Britain by international firms such as Honda.
He also accused the Office for National Statistics of being obsessed with its projection that the population will reach 70 million within 20 years.
The Conservatives are planning to bring annual net migration down to around 40,000 50,000 but Mr Johnson accused David Cameron of selling snake oil.
Mr Johnson said the Conservatives would only be able to curb immigration by focusing on skilled workers from outside the EU.
A cap on this group, he warned, would severely damage the competitiveness of British companies who depend on highly skilled overseas workers, Mr Johnson said.
Later, Ms Homer said: UK Border Agency staff can and do interview foreign students, both overseas and when they arrive in the UK, to ensure that that they did not give false information to obtain their visa or that the purpose of their visit has not changed.
Where concerns are raised, our frontline officers have the power to refuse entry.
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