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Independent education providers support the elimination of visa abuse

11 February 2014

Study UK, the UK’s leading association for independent further and higher education institutions and specialist training providers, has called for a renewed focus on fraud detection and prevention to protect against criminal exploitation of the student visa system, in response to the Panorama documentary that aired on BBC1 on Monday 10 February, titled ‘Immigration Undercover: The Student Visa Scandal’. Undercover Panorama journalists paid a west London immigration consultancy to compile all of the documents necessary to make a fraudulent Tier 4 General Student visa application. In addition to providing false bank statements to evade the Tier 4 maintenance funds requirement, Studentway Education was filmed arranging for the journalist to cheat a Home Office-approved English language test, facilitated by staff at Eden College International.

Sue Hindley, Chair of Study UK, responds to the programme:

“This appears to be a clear example of criminal fraud being perpetrated against the UK immigration system and the education sector. Study UK strongly supports the Government’s commitment to eradicating all abuse of the student visa route and we urge the Home Office in the light of these revelations to place a renewed emphasis on the detection and prevention of fraudulent student applications. Sophisticated fraud such as this can be very difficult for individual education providers to defend themselves against.

The element of the Panorama programme of most concern was the apparent ease with which one particular Home Office-approved Secure English Language Test could be subverted by unscrupulous test centre staff. It appears that the test provider, ETS of Princeton, New Jersey, has been insufficiently rigorous in its approach to test centre accreditation and the monitoring of results. It is therefore right for the Home Office to have taken swift action to suspend all ETS tests pending a full and thorough investigation. It is essential that educational institutions are able to rely on the security of these tests when considering new student applications.

Weaknesses in the regulatory framework must be addressed in order to boost public confidence in the admission of international students, whose continuing choice of the UK is a hugely valuable economic and cultural asset. We welcome such initiatives as the recent renewed focus by Ofqual on ensuring that the qualifications offered by UK awarding bodies to Tier 4 students are of a high standard and rigorously applied, and recent work by the British Council in producing a database of education agents who have completed training, signed up to an ethical code of practice, and committed to undertake a programme of continual assessment.

The overall lesson from Panorama, however, must surely be for the Home Office to focus its efforts and resources on the effective enforcement of existing laws and regulations, rather than the invention of new blanket rules and bureaucracy that would serve only to tie up responsible education providers in red tape and to discourage genuine students from applying. In this regard Study UK stands ready to assist the Government with the implementation of any preventative measures that are likely to make a real, positive impact.”

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