Report finds tens of thousands of bogus students issued Tier 4 visas

In a new study released this week by the UK National Audit Office it was found that up to 50,000 bogus students may have been improperly issued UK Tier 4 visas. These student admissions took place after the new points-based visa system was introduced in 2008.

The report estimates that the UK Border Agency let in between 40,000 to 50,000 bogus students to the UK. The National Audit Office estimates many of these Tier 4 visas went to individuals whose main intention was to work in the UK, not to study. The number of illegal immigrants who pretended to be in education is more than ten times higher than the previous estimates.

Although, immigration officials have taken measures to tighten the system up by increasing checks on colleges and applicants, the National Audit Office found that immigration controls are still lacking. Colleges have also notified the UK Border Agency more than 60,000 times of students not attending studies in breach of their visa conditions during the 18 months up to October 2011.

Official auditors claim that many of these individuals are still in the country, as UK immigration staff do not regard removing them as a "priority".

"This is one of the most shocking reports of poor management leading to abuse that I have seen," said Margaret Hodge, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. "In the first year, student visas increased by one third, as 40,000 to 50,000 individuals probably used this route to work rather than to study. We will need to ask some important questions of those responsible."

The report follows a series of scandals surrounding the UK Border Agency over its immigration controls. Specifically, last year, it emerged that the agency had relaxed passport and visa checks on foreigners at UK ports and airports without obtaining ministerial approval.

Under the new points-based system, Tier 4 visa acceptance relied much more heavily on students being "sponsored" by colleges and universities. It soon emerged that bogus colleges were accrediting thousands of visa applications.

The National Audit Office found that only a third of colleges had been inspected by the UK Border Agency to make sure they were genuine before the system came into force.

UK immigration minister Damian Green stated the Government had introduced "radical reforms in order to stamp out abuse and restore order to the uncontrolled student visa system we inherited".

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