Abuse of the UK’s student visa system has already seen changes being made to the eligibility criteria for foreign nationals who wish to come to the UK to study. There have been serious concerns in the past that student visas have been obtained because dubious “educational” organisations are set up to provide proof of a course of study. This has led to foreign nationals entering the UK on student visas who are not here to study and who may then go on to commit crimes or otherwise abuse the immigration system. Alternatively, individuals who genuinely wish to study in the UK may fall into the hands of agencies whose sole aim is to benefit financially by duping student visa applicants.
Earlier Changes to the Rules on Student Visas
In March 2010 new rules were introduced to regulate the student visa system. The intention was to ensure that only those coming to the UK to study on legitimate educational courses could obtain student visas. The new rules included:
- a reduction in the number of hours which could be worked by those on student visas;
- new requirements on English language skills; and,
- greater restrictions on the dependant family members of student visa holders.
The UK also introduced a much more scrupulous list of the approved educational organisations which may support a student visa application.
An International Effort to Combat the Abuse of Student Visas
The UK Border Agency is now working together with immigration authorities from other countries to combat abuse of the student visa system. Together they intend to crack down on organisations which provide the means for foreign nationals to obtain UK student visas under false pretences. The abuse of student visas is seen as an international problem and the British Council has worked to bring different countries together to tackle it.
The British Council is a cultural and educational organisation which promotes the relationship between the UK and other countries, and has branches all over the world. Its international activities make it well placed to identify areas where the abuse of the UK student visa system may be particularly prevalent.
Education Recruitment Agencies
UK universities and schools – in common with educational organisations all over the world – often use agencies to recruit students from abroad. The business of providing education has become increasingly competitive in recent years. Funds may be tight and foreign students often pay higher fees than domestic students. Many universities and private schools, therefore, use agencies to actively recruit foreign students. Recruitment agencies may be paid thousands of pounds in commission by universities or schools for successfully providing students. An agency may also charge fees to prospective students.
Whilst the vast majority of these recruitment agencies provide a legitimate way for universities, colleges and schools to liaise with potential students abroad, there are concerns that some agencies abuse the system for financial gain. They may provide false documents for student visa applicants or otherwise help applicants obtain a visa for which they are not truly eligible. Alternatively they may induce foreign nationals to come to the UK to study on courses at bogus or non-existent colleges. There has been particular concern about some applications from Pakistan, India and certain African countries.
Measures Introduced to Combat Abuse of Student Visas
The UK Border Agency and representatives from relevant authorities in other countries met in London to discuss global measures that can be put in place to combat abuse of the student visa system. The interests of countries, educational institutions and individual applicants were at the heart of these discussions. Countries involved included Australia, the USA and Canada. Amongst the measures which are likely to be implemented are the sharing of information between countries and a possible code of conduct for student recruitment agencies.
After the earlier tightening of the student visa regulations the UK actually saw an increase in visa applications from some countries – a pattern which has also been observed by some other popular student destinations. The recruitment of students from outside of the UK is only likely to increase and can be highly beneficial for both the educational organisation and the student. However, the global nature of the education business means that countries will have to work together to prevent further abuse of the student visa system.