UK border chief hails success in students crackdown

The chief executive of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) has defended its grip on foreign students abusing the system in the wake of a damning report last month.

In an interview with the Yorkshire Post, Rob Whiteman said that despite condemnation from MPs for causing chaos in the student visa system by introducing new requirements in 2009, meaning the number of migrants abusing the route soared by as many as 50,000, the “problems were now overcome”.

He also warned a recent move to strip London Metropolitan University of its right to teach and recruit students from outside the EU after audits found severe flouting of visa regulations could also be applied to other universities in future if they do not comply with the rules.

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Mr Whiteman’s comments came after a raid on one of Bradford’s most high-profile curry houses, Shimla’s, on Great Horton Road, on Thursday night led to two Pakistani students being arrested, with nine more students also under investigation.

The workers, aged 24 and 22, were arrested for being in breach of their visas.

The restaurant has now been issued with a civil penalty notice of up to £20,000, which will be imposed if it cannot prove it carried out the required pre-employment checks.

“Government policy is we have some of the best universities in the world and encourage the brightest and the best to come and study here,” Mr Whiteman said. “But it is to study. We are very clear that illegal working by students will be dealt with.

“On the whole when we carry out illegal working operations in this region and up and down the country, we find around 30 per cent of people we encounter are students who may be working illegally.

“Over the last two years we have taken out 400 bogus colleges that didn’t really exist to provide education – they existed as a nameplate in order to provide illegal entry into the UK by pretending to be a student. Now we have taken those colleges out, we expect to see the number of students we encounter reduced. But it remains a problem and we are determined to tackle it.”

In September, a report by the Public Accounts Committee said it was “extraordinary” for the UKBA to have introduced new requirements for students to have their visas sponsored by universities in 2009 without ensuring proper controls were in place.

Attempts to remedy the situation have left universities and other educational institutions saddled with additional bureaucracy as rule changes and new procedures filtered into the system over the past three years, the committee said.

Chairwoman Margaret Hodge said the UKBA had also been “unacceptably slow” to react to a surge in the number of people who abuse the student route in an attempt to come to Britain to work, not study.

Mr Whiteman said yesterday, however, that there has been a 21 per cent reduction in the number of student visas issued in the past year, with the figure going down from 262,000 in 2010-2011 to 205,000 in the last financial year.

“Those problems have now been overcome,” he added.

“All colleges are registered, we carry out sponsorship visits and we are notified if people are not attending courses. What we won’t allow is colleges to exercise poor standards.

“The vast majority of universities are meeting the rules.”