BBC finds 'systematic fraud' in UK's student immigration system

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A BBC investigation into the UK's Tier 4 student visa system has found 'systematic immigration fraud'. An investigation for the Panorama documentary programme found immigration consultants offering forged documents for use in Tier 4 visa applications and offering to help students cheat in government approved exams.

Interviewed for the programme, the UK's Home Secretary, Theresa May, told reporter Richard Watson that the programme's findings were 'shocking and important' and said 'I want to do something about it'.

The UK issues about 200,000 student visas annually and also approves a further 100,000 visa extensions. In order to qualify for a Tier 4 visa, you must be able to prove that;

  • You can communicate adequately in English. To prove this, you must take an English test in two parts. First, you must talk with an examiner, usually online, who will assess your English ability and then you must take a 200 question multiple choice exam.
  • You have suitable academic qualifications. You will have to show certificates.
  • You have sufficient funds to be able to support yourself in the UK. You will have to show bank statements
  • A registered UK academic institution is prepared to sponsor your visa application.

Forged documents

The Panorama programme sent foreign students who were in the UK legally to pose as customers at the offices of several immigration consultancies. Consultants were filmed
  • Offering to help applicants who could not speak English to pass the government's English test by;
    • Arranging for someone fluent in English to take the oral English test and
    • Providing all the answers to the multiple choice test
  • Providing forged educational certificates
  • Providing misleading bank statements and
  • Arranging for educational institutions to provide a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) certificate to applicants who were not intending to study there.
The Panorama report followed several undercover reporters at two different immigration consultancies. The reporters visited the firms and asked for help obtaining Tier 4 visas. They explained that they needed Tier 4 visas but intended to work full time.

The reporters also made it clear that they did not have the correct paperwork. For a total of about £2,500 the bogus consultants produced the forged or misleading information required.

Hacking bank accounts

Consultants provided bogus educational qualifications and bank statements. One consultant boasted that he would hack into banks and steal the details of a person with a similar name to a Tier 4 applicant with a healthy bank balance and show this information to the Home Office.

The film then showed exams at two separate English language testing centres in London where undercover reporters posing as Tier 4 applicants arrived at the centre to take tests to prove their English language ability.

When they arrived, they registered their presence with the invigilators. Then, they were told to keep out of the way while other people, who were fluent in English, took the English tests for them.

Sponsorship licences suspended

The Home Office has since suspended all English language tests run by ETS, the world's biggest educational testing service and has also suspended the sponsorship licences of the two English language colleges involved.

The Home Secretary has said that the Home Office will investigate all the allegations made in the programme.

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